The 2015-16 season for Cleveland’s boys basketball team was all a matter of timing. When the Rams had the kind of timing they thrive on — a consistent schedule, games that fit their pace of play and a little bit of luck — they were able to win consistently.
When those things didn’t happen, the gritty Cleveland club suffered the kind of fate it did Tuesday night in the opening round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A playoffs – a 69-57 loss to West Brunswick. The Rams, coming off of a banner season last year, finished the 2015-16 with an 11-16 mark.
“We just had too many days off,” said Cleveland coach John Jacobs. “We haven’t played (in a week) and it showed. It took us a quarter to get going. When we’ve played a consistent schedule of games this year, we’ve been a much better team.”
The Trojans (18-7) played 10 deep extensively, built an early double-digit lead and moved into the second round without much trouble from the Rams.
“They’re real deep and they’re a quick basketball team,” Jacobs said of West Brunswick. “We haven’t seen a team that plays like that, with the full court press and depth, all season. After we got through that first quarter, we played much better.
“We just couldn’t get off of that eight-, nine-, 10- or 12-point gap.”
After falling behind by 18 (its largest deficit) midway of the third quarter, Cleveland closed to within 11 points by the end of the period. Landry Moore and Tonio Mayo both hit 3-pointers during Cleveland’s push to get back in the game.
The Rams closed the gap to 59-51 with 5:29 to play on a Tanner Costine 3-ball and had a change to get closer on their next possession. But the Trojans’ Xavier Gause came up with a steal that led to a layup for teammate Josh Woodard and Cleveland could never get back within 10 points.
Gause, a senior, had a game-high 24 points, including 14 in the second half.
“We tried to match up with them, but they just had too much speed for us,” Jacobs said. “We’d be with them speedwise, then they’d go to a big lineup. Then they’d go quick again. It wasn’t for lack of effort on our guys’ part. We just didn’t have that speedy depth and size that they were able to go to all night.”
Costine led Cleveland with 18 points, while Moore added nine and Mayo contributed eight.
The Rams lose 10 seniors to graduation: Kenny White, Jaylyn Pearce, Noah Avant, Malik Wiggins, Caleb Howard, Kevin Greene, Zach Jacobs, Mayo, Costine and Moore.
“For a bunch with just two or three players who played much last season, this class of 10 seniors really came along throughout the season,” Jacobs said. “We lost more than our share of close games, which is the breaks. But I couldn’t fault their effort one bit. The effort was always there, even when things didn’t go our way.”