As the regular season winds down in the N.C. High School Athletic Association basketball season, there’s still a lot to be decided in the boys and girls races in the Two Rivers 3A Conference.
On Friday night, the Cleveland girls and Smithfield boys basketball teams did their part in trying to clear up what their postseason standing will be with a pair of big wins.
The Smithfield-Selma boys basketball team won their eighth home game in nine tries this season by outlasting Cleveland 60-52 in overtime.
The Spartans (13-8, 5-3) outscored the Rams 11-3 in overtime to take sole possession of second place in the conference, setting up a huge game Tuesday night as Triton comes to town ahead in the standings by a single game.
The Cleveland girls basketball team cruised to a 54-28 victory over the Spartans in which 10 different Rams scored.
Cleveland (20-2, 8-0), who shared the Two Rivers 3A Conference title a year ago with Corinth Holders, will look to clinch the regular season title outright when it visits last place Western Harnett Tuesday night and will carry into the contest an eight-game winning streak.
Spartans in “survival” mode
After his team took control late for the overtime win over Cleveland, Smithfield-Selma coach Matt Cuddington had a one-word reply when asked what his team needed to do in the final week of the regular season to make the playoffs: “Survival.”
The victory made that an easier proposition for the Spartans but there was nothing easy for Smithfield-Selma in avenging its three-point loss at the hands of the Rams earlier in the season.
Rashad Potts scored five quick points in the extra period to stake Smithfield-Selma to the 54-49 advantage and the Spartans clamped down on defense and controlled the glass for the first time in the game to hold off the Rams (9-13, 4-4).
“The key in overtime started the last possession in regulation,” Cuddington said. “All five people were on the floor and made the commitment that they were going to lock down and strap up and it carried over into the entire overtime.”
The Rams had a chance to win the game on that final possession. Tanner Costine was headed off at the top of the key by Malik Frazier, but then spun around and found Garrett Davenport in the corner for the 3-point attempt but the junior guard’s shot was long and secured by the Spartans.
In overtime, Raequan Smith pulled down five rebounds as Cleveland went cold from the field.
“Coach was telling us that they were eating us up off the glass,” said Smith. “He said that we had to find somebody, box him out and get the rebound. He said that if we rebounded the ball in overtime, that we’d win the game and that’s what we did.”
The first half was back-and-forth with neither team able to take control but Cleveland expanded its one-point halftime lead to eight points on a Jaylyn Pearce layup at the 4:15 mark of the third quarter.
That’s when Kavon Ward got hot, however. Ward, who hit a buzzer-beater earlier in the week to lead the Spartans past South Johnston, caught fire, scoring 11 points in less than three minutes to even the score at 40-40 late in the third period.
“He is a streaky shooter and he can shoot from deep,” Cuddington said of Ward. “That’s why he gets (shots) off. He was huge tonight; he ignited us.”
Ward led Smithfield-Selma with 17 points. Josh Raiford had 11 and Malik Frazier added 10.
Davenport led Cleveland with 13 points while Pearce joined him in double figures with 11.
Cleveland’s loss dropped them to a third place tie with Corinth Holders. The two teams will play each other in the final game of the regular season with possibly an automatic berth in the NCHSAA playoffs on the line.
“We’re trying to get into the playoffs,” Cleveland coach John Jacobs said. “We hustled and played hard tonight; we just didn’t make shots. We’ve got to come back next week and have some good practices.”
Cleveland girls peaking at right time
Cleveland wasted little time in exerting its dominance close to the basket as the Rams jumped out to a 14-7 lead over the Spartans after one quarter with 10 of their points coming inside the paint.
For the game, Cleveland outscored Smithfield-Selma 30-10 in the lane with Amber Scott (15 points, six rebounds) and Tehya Lee (eight points) doing much of the damage.
“We’ve got to keep moving the ball because when we do, we’re really difficult to deal with,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “When we get the ball reversed and we’re making skip passes and we’re getting it into the post so we can work inside-outside, that’s when we get threes and get balanced: that’s when we’re at our best.”
For the Spartans, Logan Lee was at her best as she led Smithfield-Selma with 18 points. Natalie Sabiston added eight points for Smithfield-Selma (3-18, 2-6).
However, down to just six players, Smithfield-Selma was worn down by a deep Cleveland team that outscored the Spartans in bench points 22-0.
Cleveland will head into the last week of the regular season with a two-game lead over second place Triton, a team the Rams have already swept this season. The Rams will need just one win either at winless Western Harnett or at home against Corinth Holders to claim the regular season conference title outright.