Even before tipoff, things seemed just a little bit off as the Cleveland girls basketball team’s pregame shoot around stretched to 90 minutes as visiting Orange was late due to traffic issues.
Once the game started 30 minutes after scheduled, it may not have come as easily as expected and it may not have been considered pretty, but the No. 2-seeded Rams (25-2) survived an upset bid and came away with a 47-41 win over the Panthers in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association basketball playoffs.
“Sooner or later, you’ve got to win games like this if you’re going to advance in the tournament when it’s not your best night,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “They outhustled us for most of the game so a lot of credit goes to them for coming over here and playing. I just felt that, for whatever reason, we were just a little bit off tonight.”
Entering the fourth quarter trailing 35-34, the Cleveland defense clamped down and worked the ball inside on offense.
Amber Scott’s offensive put-back temporarily gave the Rams the lead but then Jaeda Scott’s jumper in the lane with 4:50 remaining in the quarter gave Cleveland the lead for good.
With less than 30 seconds left in the game, the Panthers stole the ball and had a chance to cut the lead to two points but Kaylen Campbell’s layup was too strong and Myrayna Watkins secured the rebound.
The Rams looked to be following the script that has worked for them for much of the season: pulling away from teams as the game wears on. After a slow start, Cleveland built a 12-point lead in the second quarter before the Panthers closed out the half on a 10-2 run.
Again, in the third quarter, the Rams tried to create some distance, pushing the lead to eight points before Jazlyn Watson supplied the Panthers with a spark off the bench, going for seven points in the period, which ended with Orange snagging a one-point lead.
Campbell and Watson each had 11 points for the visiting Panthers (8-17).
Tehya Lee had 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead Cleveland. Jaeda Scott came off the bench to contribute 10 points and nine rebounds while Watkins finished with seven points and nine rebounds.
“We finally just got it done and made some free throws and some shots inside,” said Danehower. “Going into the fourth quarter, we told them that our defense will win the game and it did.
“A win’s a win. You’ve got to move on this time of year; you’ve got to find a way to win games like this.”