There was still a lot up for grabs in the last night of the regular season in Two Rivers 3A Conference boys and girls basketball.
For the boys, Corinth Holders won its fifth straight conference game in defeating the defending champions Cleveland 68-41 to move into a three-way tie for first place with fellow Thursday night winners Smithfield-Selma and Triton.
For the second time this season, the Cleveland girls basketball team was tested by conference and Johnston county rival Corinth Holders, but also for the second time, the Rams persevered to stay unbeaten in the Two Rivers 3A Conference.
Cleveland held off a fourth quarter rally from the Pirates and completed its conference season a perfect 10-0 after the 48-41 win Thursday night on senior night.
Three’s good company for Pirates, Spartans
Smithfield-Selma earned its share of the Two Rivers boys title with a 72-61 victory over South Johnston.
Malik Frazier and Raequan Smith had big nights for SSS to lead a trio of double-digit scorers. Frazier totaled 26 points on South Johnston’s senior night, while Smith added 17. Kavon Ward chipped in 10 for the Spartans (14-8, 7-3).
DeParis Patterson had 13 to pace South Johnston (7-14, 2-8), which visits Cleveland in the opening round of the conference tournament on Monday night.
Triton (13-10, 7-3) meets Western Harnett — which it beat Thursday night — again Monday night in the first round of the conference tournament.
The Corinth Holders boys went to the well that has been so bountiful for the Pirates lately to defeat Cleveland on the road to grab a share of the conference title.
The Pirates ended up with the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament, while SSS drew the No. 2 seed and Triton was third. The No. 1 and 2 seeds received automatic byes into the Two Rivers 3A Conference tournament semifinals on Wednesday night.
The team that advances the deepest or wins the conference tournament will be the No. 1 seed from the league for the state playoffs.
Corinth Holders (15-8, 7-3) got off to a quick start thanks to some hot shooting from the perimeter and stifling halfcourt defense to construct an insurmountable 32-13 halftime lead.
Senior point guard Jordan Neal canned his first two three-pointers and Johnavan Neal scored half a dozen points in the opening period as well to put the Pirates up from the outset in a game that never saw them trail.
“I’m so proud of these guys because they stuck with it,” Corinth Holders coach Chris Davis said. “There were chances this season to get down on themselves and what was going on and they decided no, they were going to step up.
“The last three weeks have been some of the most fulfilling I’ve had as a coach in my 20 years doing this.”
After scoring just the baker’s dozen in the first half, the Rams came out in the second half fired up and tried to creep back into the game with 21 points in the third quarter alone.
Cleveland (10-14, 5-5) went on a 14-4 spurt to cut the lead down to 11 points but a Brian Frazier three with one second left in the third quarter prevented the Rams from entering the fourth quarter with the momentum.
Tanner Costine led the Rams with nine points. Jaylyn Pearce had seven.
Jordan Neal had 14 points on the night for Corinth Holders. Frazier added 12 points and six assists while Steven Adams poured in 12 points off the bench.
In all, 11 different Pirates scored for a team that has prided itself on sacrificing individual numbers for team gain.
“We realized our team is more important than our individuality so when we realized that we let go of everything that had to do with just one person,” said Jordan Neal. “We started playing as a team.”
Corinth Holders will enter the conference tournament next week as the No. 1 seed thanks to a drawing that occurred the day before the final regular season round of games. Cleveland will be the No. 4 seed.
Rams cap off perfect conference regular season
The first time the Cleveland girls basketball team defeated Corinth Holders this year, it required overtime. This time, it required them holding off the Pirates’ spirited fourth quarter comeback attempt.
The Rams (22-2, 10-0) took a 36-22 lead into the fourth quarter but Corinth Holders opened the final quarter on a 9-0 run to get right back in the game.
When Melanie Tola knocked down a pair of free throws with 2:45 to go the fourth, the Pirates (10-13, 4-6) trailed by just a single basket.
Amber Scott hit a pair of key baskets, however, and the Rams went 8-of-11 from foul line to secure the win.
“You’ve got to give them a lot of credit, they cut it to two (points) but then our experience took over,” said Cleveland coach Chris Danehower. “Amber Scott had some big plays underneath.”
The smaller but quicker Corinth Holders lineup appeared to get more effective as the game wore on as they scored 19 points in the final frame after totaling just 22 through the first three quarters of play.
However, having to fight back from 14 points down, the Pirates needed to be nearly perfect in all facets of the game, a feat they were unable to accomplish.
“We were wearing them down but the problem was we weren’t converting in the process,” said Corinth Holders coach Brandy Smith. “We were missing easy passes right underneath the basket, we were missing easy layups and the biggest thing of all was going 12-of-24 from the free throw line.”
The Rams will get a first round bye in the conference tournament after a special regular season has seen them go 10-0 against teams from Johnston County and finish the regular season on a 10-game win streak.
“It feels really awesome,” Amber Scott said. “We’re unbeaten (against) schools in Johnston County, we went 10-0 in conference and we won the conference championship by ourselves.
“We’re very happy; I’m happy for our team.”
South Johnston dropped Smithfield-Selma 58-33 on Thursday night as well to finish 6-4 in the conference as well. The Trojans are 13-8 overall entering the postseason. Senior Anna Webster had 25 for the Trojans to lead all scorers, while fellow senior McKinley Johnson finished with 13.
Logan Lee finished with 20 for Smithfield-Selma (3-20, 2-8). Triton also beat Western Harnett (0-23, 0-10), 66-27, to move to 17-6 overall and 8-2 in the league.
D. Clay Best contributed.
Two Rivers 3A Conference Tournaments
Monday, Boys First Round: No. 5 South Johnston at No. 4 Cleveland, 7 p.m.; No. 6 Western Harnett at No. 3 Triton, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Girls First Round: No. 5 Smithfield-Selma at No. 4 Corinth Holders, 7 p.m.; No. 6 Western Harnett at No. 3 South Johnston, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Boys Semifinals: South Johnston/Cleveland winner at No. 1 Corinth Holders, 7 p.m.; Western Harnett/Triton winner at No. 2 Smithfield-Selma, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Girls Semifinals: Smithfield-Selma/Corinth Holders winner at Cleveland, 7 p.m.; Western Harnett/South Johnston winner at Triton, 7 p.m.
Friday, Championships (at highest boys seed): Girls, 6 p.m.; Boys, 7:30 p.m.