Smithfield-Selma was looking like a team about to lose on Senior Night for the first 20 minutes against Corinth Holders on Tuesday night.
And then a couple of underclassmen led the way to saving it.
Sophomore big man Josh Raiford led the way with 17 points, while junior guard Raequan Smith added 13, leading the Spartans to an important 51-48 comeback win in a Two Rivers 3A battle of Johnston County rivals.
The win left the door open for SSS (9-12, 4-5 Two Rivers) to qualify for the state tournament without winning the conference tournament next week. Corinth Holders (5-17, 3-6), which has been competitive since breaking a 10-game losing streak to start the season, has to win the conference tourney to play on.
The result gave interim SSS coach Matt Cuddington, the assistant who took the reins after head coach James Robinson relinquished the duties because of ongoing severe back pain, a 3-2 career record.
“Defensively we’re playing pretty decent,” said Cuddington, whose team avenged a 55-44 loss to the Pirates on Jan. 23 in Wendell. “Offensively, if we get the ball inside everything else opens up.
“The transition has been challenging, but it’s been very rewarding and the kids have responded very well.”
Corinth Holders coach Chris Davis said losing a 13-point halftime lead was just another in a series of growing pains for his young squad.
“That’s kind of the name of the season — tough ones,” Davis said. “You’ve got to play two halves of basketball. You can’t decide at halftime, ‘We’re up 13 and 14 points we’re good’ and stop doing what we were doing to make it happen.
“In the first half we moved the ball and passed the ball and worked as a unit, and in the second half we decided we wanted to kill the floor by bouncing it so much. All of a sudden the offensive execution was bad and then the shot selection was bad.”
The Pirates led 12-10 after one period, then threatened to turn it into a blowout in the second. Adams’ 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the half stretched the lead to 34-21.
“We just believed in each other,” Smith said. “When we came in at halftime we just said ‘We can do it,’ and worked together and kept composure. When we did that we just fought back.
“There are Cinderella stories every year. We’re going to try to get to the state tournament and make things happen. We did this for the seniors tonight because this is their last chance.”
But SSS started reeling the visitors in in the third period, slicing the lead to 40-36 on a Smith layup with 46 seconds left in the third.
The Spartans took the lead for good at 43-42 on a Chris Turner free throw with 4:42 to go, but the lead was never safe until the final horn.
Malik Frazier hit both ends of a two-shot opportunity with eight seconds to go, and the Pirates were unable to get a 3-point shot to tie.
“We really came together when (Cuddington) became the head coach,” Raiford said. “We were down a (head) coach and now we’re all praying together.
“We just came together tonight. We wanted to show the seniors and the community we could play together as a team.”