At halftime of Smithfield-Selma’s 3A state playoff basketball game at Fayetteville’s Westover High School on Friday, one of the two scoreboards in the gym malfunctioned and was out of operation for the second half.
The Spartans’ offense suffered a similar issue.
Smithfield-Selma was held scoreless for the first 6:50 of the third quarter as the Wolverines pulled away for a 60-45 first-round victory, ending the Spartans’ season at 10-13.
“Cold. Cold. It was like we were frozen,” Smithfield-Selma coach Matt Cuddington said of the third quarter. “But it happens sometimes. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce (your way).”
The Spartans found themselves trailing 34-19 before finally breaking the ice in the second half. But Smithfield-Selma didn’t back down and twice cut the deficit to five in the fourth quarter before Westover ended the game on a 11-2 run.
With 4:45 to play, Raequan Smith completed a four-point play on a three-point shot with a foul to trim the Wolverine lead to 44-39. Smith again made it a five-point game with a pair of free throws at the 3:59 mark but the Spartans again went cold, pocketing just one more field goal the rest of the way.
“That’s them,” Cuddington said of his players’ never-give-up mentality. “They’re a very resilient bunch. It started with the effort and just believing in one another.”
The thorn in the Spartans’ side was Westover’s 6-6 senior Leon Williams, who scored his team’s first 14 points of the second half on his way to a game-high 23. Along with 6-7 Adrian Norwood, 6-6 Demani Applewhite and 6-5 Jozek Vanderhorst, the Wolverines featured a sizable presence that proved tough for Smithfield-Selma to match.
“They were so hard to guard because they had so much length,” Cuddington said.
Williams was particularly challenging and his back-to-back three-pointers early in the fourth quarter served as a momentum killer for the Spartans.
“He was hard to guard, especially on the perimeter. I thought in the first half when we went into a zone (defense) it worked some but in the third quarter we had to come out of it and had to come out and guard him,” Cuddington said. “When we cut it to five, he hit two big 3s. They were huge and it seemed like we couldn’t rebound from those three’s that he hit.”
Smith led the Spartan attack with 22 points. The loss marked the second straight year Smithfield-Selma has lost in the first round of the state tournament but Cuddington sees plenty of optimism for a team returning all but four players, including Smith.
“Could we have been better? Yeah, but this is a young team,” Cuddington said. “Very, very young basketball team so if we stay together and work, next year the sky is the limit.”