With a costumed Santa Claus, two Grinches and an elf leading chants in the student section, the Smithfield-Selma Spartans threw plenty of 3-pointers down the chimney during Thursday’s Two Rivers Conference boys basketball opener at home against Corinth Holders.
Smithfield-Selma poured in a lucky 13 treys, four of which came during a decisive two-minute stretch of the final period, to rally past the Pirates by an 80-77 margin in a duel between expected league powerhouses.
“The 3-pointers saved us,’’ said Matt Cuddington, who is in his first full season as head coach of the Spartans (8-4). “This was definitely a big win.’’
The back-and-forth game saw Corinth Holders (4-5) extend to leads of more than five points on two occasions in the second half – only to see the Spartans claw back from beyond the arc.
“You have to get out and guard at the 3-point line, and we didn’t do that,’’ said Pirates’ head coach Chris Davis. “In the six years we’ve played (the Spartans), I don’t think they have combined to make as many 3-pointers as they did (Thursday). We let their guys get hot, and they just kept shooting from out there.’’
Corinth Holders was ahead 65-60 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Spartans closed with a 20-12 surge that featured a quartet of trifectas, along with six free throws in the final minute after Smithfield-Selma had taken the lead for good.
“We just had to trust our shots in that situation,’’ said Smithfield-Selma senior guard Raequan Smith. “We practice situations every day when we are behind by five points or so with one or two minutes left. So when you get into a game, it’s like second nature.’’
With the outcome in doubt, the Spartans went to the perimeter, beginning with a 3-pointer from Malik Frazier with 3:44 remaining. After treys from Frazier and Kavon Ward, Frazier put Smithfield-Selma ahead to stay at 72-70 with a 22-footer at the 1:37 mark. The Pirates struggled in half-court situations down the stretch and were forced to foul. Smith made four of the Spartans’ six freebies to wrap up the emotional victory.
“We were playing on our home court and the crowd was really behind us,’’ Smith said. “With every 3-pointer we made, it just got louder. When you released a shot, you could really feel the crowd. Santa came early for us.’’
Three who mattered
Malik Frazier, Smithfield-Selma: Finished with a game-high 23 points, including five 3-pointers. When his club needed an offensive lift late in the matchup, Frazier accepted the challenge.
Raequan Smith, Smithfield-Selma: Had 22 points, including 4-of-6 free throws to wrap up one of the Spartans’ most important home victories in recent seasons. Like Frazier, Smith is a senior veteran.
“Malik and Raequan are our defined leaders,’’ Cuddington said. “As they go, we go.’’
Steven Adams, Corinth Holders: Until their late breakdown, the Pirates had put together a solid performance, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Adams played a key role for Corinth Holders, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
They said it
“We had to come out and make a statement in this game,’’ Smith said. “At the end of last year, we made a goal to win the conference championship this season because we had only lost three seniors. We feel like we have a chance to take the conference.’’
Out of bounds
Davis said before tip-off that Corinth Holders and Smithfield-Selma might have the top clubs in the TRC. He didn’t back down from that assessment after 32 minutes of intense action.
“It’s a shame that these teams had to start the conference schedule against each other,’’ Davis said. “Really, this should be the league’s two best teams talent-wise, though Cleveland has been playing well as of late and Triton seems to find a way.’’