Garner Cleveland: Sports

Southeast Raleigh eyes another deep run in the girls basketball playoffs

Southeast Raleigh’s Jade Phillips (5) takes off down the court as Garner’s Khayani Chandler (12) pursues.
Southeast Raleigh’s Jade Phillips (5) takes off down the court as Garner’s Khayani Chandler (12) pursues.

The Southeast Raleigh girls basketball team doesn’t take any games for granted. Even Thursday’s lopsided 70-19 win over visiting Clayton in the regular season finale was an opportunity to build on something.

“We don’t overlook any game. We treat each and every game as an opportunity to get better,” Bulldogs coach Nicole Meyers said. “Our expectation is to win every game we play and we’re disappointed when we don’t get that. So I think the expectation level is high and they rise to that occasion.”

From now on, the Bulldogs will have to do just that – win every game. The state tournament begins Monday and Southeast will have a No. 1 seed by virtue of a 21-2 season including a perfect 14-0 in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference. The Bulldogs have now won 31 straight conference games dating back to January of 2012.

The only two losses this season came at the hands of teams from South Carolina and Tennessee, meaning the Bulldogs have won an unprecedented 67 consecutive regular season games against teams from the Tarheel State.

“I purposely scheduled a tougher non-conference schedule this year so that would prep us for a deep postseason run. I didn’t want to be ill-prepared so I challenged them to play against the best,” Meyers said. “Seeing some top teams from different states opened our eyes to how high the competition level can be.”

The current class of five seniors has racked up a 99-11 record over the last four seasons but one thing remains missing.

“The senior class has definitely been an important part of this program. They’ve continued the winning tradition and served as role models for the underclassmen,” Meyers said. “But they want to do something that hasn’t been done by a Southeast Raleigh group in a long while and that is win a state championship.”

The Bulldogs’ last state title came in 1999 and this year’s squad could be poised for a legacy of its own. Meyers points to this team’s ability to score as what separates itself from the previous seven seasons she’s been at the helm. The Bulldogs are averaging more than 62 points per game.

“This year’s identity relies a lot on their ability to score. I have a lot of scorers on this team. This group is so dynamic on the offensive end and that kind of sets them apart,” Meyers said.

That scoring ability was on full display against Clayton. Tiffany McCarter scored 31 points as Southeast reached the 70-point mark for the eighth time this season. The Bulldogs raced to a 19-2 lead to open the game, led 31-9 at halftime and 50-16 after three quarters. Remarkably, Southeast tallied just four points at the free throw line while netting 31 field goals.

“Tiffany has been our rock all year long,” Meyers said. “She may not lead us in scoring but she does all the little things right. She’s our physical presence and we definitely need her to go deep into the playoffs.”

Southeast reached the state semifinals a year ago before being eliminated by two-time defending state champion Millbrook 58-39. For the Bulldogs, not taking games for granted is now more important than ever.

“We just have to be ready to play every game. We can’t have mental lapses,” Meyers said. “The deeper we go into the playoffs the more possessions are going to be important and we have to value every possession.”