Faced with literally its tallest task of the season, Smithfield-Selma found the perfect tonic to neutralize Fayetteville Westover’s substantial size advantage.
The small-but-scrappy Spartans drained nine 3-pointers and used a half-court trap defense to keep the ball out of the hands of the Wolverines’ frontliners en route to claiming a 60-56 home decision in Tuesday’s first round of the N.C. HIgh School Athletic Association 3A boys basketball playoffs.
Smithfield-Selma, seeded 13th, advanced into second-round action Thursday at No. 4 seed Asheboro. The 20th-seeded Wolverines finished at 14-12.
The Spartans trailed by as many as seven points on a pair of occasions in the opening period, thanks in part to Westover’s triangle-and-two defense, which focused its attention on Smithfield-Selma top scores Raequan Smith and Malik Frazier.
With Smith and Frazier having difficulty finding quality looks, guard Kavon Ward stepped up with two treys, and the Wolverines were eventually forced to switch up to a 2-3 zone strategy.
“We struggled some with the triangle-and-two because we hadn’t seen it,’’ said Smithfield-Selma coach Matt Cuddington. “When Kavon started making shots, (Westover) had to change some things. Kavon helped us settle in.’’
On the other side of the court, Cuddington tried both man-to-man and zone defenses before opting for a half-court trap early in the second quarter against an opponent that featured three rotation players who are 6-foot-7 or taller. The Spartans would stay in the trap the rest of the way and were able to force some turnovers with their perimeter quickness.
Still, Smithfield-Selma wasn’t able to take the lead for good until Ward nailed back-to-back trifectas to give the Spartans a 55-52 advantage with 2:33 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Smithfield-Selma would tack on three free throws in the final 1:02, and Josh Raiford would wrap up the victory with an entry-pass steal at the 27-second mark.
“This was a huge win for our program,’’ Cuddington said. “It was great for our seniors to experience this. It was a challenge for us playing a team that long. We are undersized, so we knew we had to knock down the 3-pointers. We were living and dying by the three-pointer.’’
Ward would respond with a season-high 22 points, including six treys. Smith added 13 points, while freshman Isaiah Watson was feisty inside with 12 tallies.
“(Westover) was a tough team,’’ Ward said. “They were really big, and they put that triangle-and-two on our best guards. I had to come in, shoot the ball well and lift the team up. With us being a good-shooting team, that’s what we needed to do.’’
Adrian Norwood, a 6-foot-8 senior with a soft scoring touch in the paint, was the lone double-figure scorer for the Wolverines.
The meeting was a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff contest, which was claimed by host Westover on its way to reaching the third round.