From the opening tip until the final whistle of the boys’ game, Triton’s visit to South Johnston Friday night was tight and intense.
In the end, JaQuain Smith’s driving bank shot in the final seconds was off the mark for the Trojans and Triton escaped with a 56-54 Two Rivers 3A win in front of a near-capacity crowd.
It took a 9-1 run over the final 2:47 for the Hawks to erase a 53-47 deficit.
“Atmosphere couldn’t get any better for a high school game,” South Johnston coach Brody Massengill said. “We had our chances. We wanted to be in it until the end, and we were. I could have done a better job, I though, towards the end of the game getting us some better looks.”
He continued: “We got a high ball screen for JaQuain, he came off of it. Maybe it could have been a foul, I don’t know. But he attacked the rim like we wanted to.”
The win runs the Hawks’ record to 13-9 overall and a perfect 8-0 in conference play while South Johnston falls to 12-8 overall and 3-5 in league action.
Shiquan Cox scored a game-high 20 points for Triton, which also got nine points from Byron Massey. Cox saved his best for late in the game, scoring 10 of his points in the final period.
Javonte Smith scored 14 points, Landen Lockamy added 13 and DeParis Patterson tallied 10 for the Trojans in a losing effort.
In the first game in the twin bill, Triton pulled away with a 10-2 fourth quarter to secure a 42-29 victory.
The Trojans (1-19, 1-7) came into the night with only one win on the season, but played the Hawks close for the first three quarters.
“I think the biggest thing is to get the focus on the progress,” South Johnston coach Amanda Smith said. “And understanding that it’s not always about winning and losing. It’s about the progress. … If you do the small things well, big things will happen. It’s just a matter of time.”
Anna Marie Tyndall led all scorers with 15 for Triton (12-10, 7-1) while Kathryn Elliott added 13.
South Johnston got 12 from Carmen Keene, and nine of them came from three-pointers.
South Johnston didn’t look much like a team struggling to win basketball games for most of night against Triton.
The Trojans came out hot, knocking down outside shots and piling up offensive rebounds against the Hawks’ 2-3 zone.
That forced a change in strategy from Triton coach Keith Howard.
“(Keene) and (Kaylee Creech) kind of got hot on us,” Triton coach Keith Howard said. “We weren’t closing out on the shot, so we went to a little man to change things up. They had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, and we kind of tightened up on that.”
Triton also played without starter Allure Smith, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Howard said she could return Tuesday for Senior Night against Smithfield-Selma.
The Hawks remain in a dead heat with Cleveland for the top spot in the conference.
“I told my team the only thing we have to do is worry about Lady Hawk basketball,” Howard said. “Take care of yourself, and everything else will take care of itself.”
Triton lost its first four games of the season and entered the conference schedule with a 5-9 record. The Hawks have turned things around in a big way with a perfect 8-0 start in Two Rivers 3A play.
That hot start, and their status as the league’s front-runner, gets them every team’s best shot — and South Johnston took the visitors down to the wire.
It was a playoff-like environment, with loud, active student sections standing and cheering every play. Just the sort of experience a coach would like for his team to get before heading into the postseason.
“It was a fun game, a fun atmosphere,” Triton coach T.J. Morrison said. “I’m glad we came out on top. It could have easily gone the other way. … South Johnston’s always tough to play, here or (at home), but especially here.”
An old-fashioned three-point play from Javonte Smith put the Trojans on top, 53-47, with less than three minutes to go. Smith fouled out at the 2:47 mark, however, and Cox went to work.
He knocked down a pair of free throws and then drilled a corner three to make it 53-52 with less than two minutes left. Patterson hit a free throw to make it 54-52, but Cox’s three-point play put the Hawks ahead to stay at the one-minute mark.