Harnett Central and South Johnston played to another varsity basketball split on Wednesday night in Four Oaks. Central pulled away in the second half to win the girls’ game 45-29, and South never trailed on the way to an 81-59 victory in the boys’ game.
‘That’s what you preach’
South looked like a completely different team this time against Central. The first time they played, Central won the first two quarters 16-4 and 19-3. This time, South actually took an 11-9 lead into the second quarter, and only trailed 22-20 at the half.
“I’m excited to see it,” said South head coach Whitney Williams. “We’re improving, we just need to keep improving. It’s not that we aren’t getting any better, we just need to learn how to finish.”
Central head coach Chelsey Cabe was disappointed with her team’s defensive effort to start the game and felt that led to some struggles on the offensive end.
“Every time we play intense, talking defense, our offensive intensity follows that,” Cabe said. “That’s what I preach to the girls. So if we don’t have anything going on defensively, they don’t get anything going on offense.”
The third quarter started off slow again, but Central started to pull away when Cabe pulled her starters and went to her bench. Central closed out the period on a 9-0 run and Cabe stuck with her bench players to start the fourth quarter. They continued to dominate with a 7-0 run to put the game out of reach.
Zykia Matthews had a breakout performance with nine points and six rebounds to lead Central off the bench. Syniah McMiller had eight points. Brittany Mills had six points. Lyannah Molyneau and Fayth Brown had five points apiece. Madeline Langdon and Keanna Womble each had four points. Lyndsey Brewer and Marcayla Jones each had two points.
“Keanna Womble, Lya Molyneau, Z [Matthews], Madeline Langdon and Aleecya Williams, those five stepped up big tonight,” Cabe said. “They are the reason we won that ballgame by the deficit that we did. But you know what? That’s what you preach. When you get your opportunity to go in there and do something, make me not able to take you out of the game and that’s what they did. There was no reason for me to take them out because they played so well.”
Nikki Lee led South with nine points. Kaylee Creech, in her second game back from injury, had five points in limited action. Janay McDonald had four points. Jenna Brown and Kennedy Byrd each had three points. Katon Blackmon, Paige Toler and Emma Jernigan each had two points.
Williams was disappointed with South’s energy in the second half and said she felt like it’s been a problem all season long. She also pointed to the free throw line, where South made just five of 22 attempts.
“We’ve definitely got to figure out how to correct our third quarter and score more,” Williams said. “But free throws, we went 5-22, missed 17 in a game we lost by 16.”
Central (7-3) will start off Tri-County Conference play tonight when they travel to Lee County (1-10). Cabe hopes her team can rediscover its defensive intensity going into the conference portion of the season.
“I don’t know what we’ve been doing defensively, but that’s what we’re working on [Thursday],” Cabe said. “We’re still not playing the ball that we play, like we played against Smithfield-Selma. We’ve got to get back to that because we start conference on Friday. I told them, ‘Your record is 0-0 — nothing.’”
South (1-12) will also start off its conference schedule tonight against Greater Neuse foe Clayton (9-3). The Comets are led by Liberty University commit Asia Todd, who averages 23.4 points per game.
“Our goal is to stop Asia Todd,” Williams. “Stop her, and hopefully everything else will follow.”
‘There ain’t a whole lot to say’
Thomas Dees set the tone for South early by knocking down a three-pointer to start the game. South hit 11 triples in the contest, six of them by senior point guard JaQuain Smith, who finished the night with a career-high 34 points.
“JaQuain, it was his night right from the get-go,” said South head coach Brody Massengill. “He played with a lot of energy and a lot of effort, and the rest of our team just followed behind him... JaQuain put on a show tonight.”
South opened up the game with a 9-0 run and led 18-12 at the end of the first quarter. Central held even in the second quarter to trail just 34-28 at halftime, but South started to gain separation in the third quarter and took a 54-40 lead into the fourth.
“I just feel like there ain’t a whole lot to say,” Massengill said. “We shared the ball really well. You can tell just by the joy on our kids’ faces, they love to play basketball, and they’re playing well.”
In addition to Smith, C.J. Ray and Jacob Thornton both finished in double figures for South with 14 and 11 points respectively. Dees, Colby Norris and Cole Winborne each added six points, and Clayton Blackman had four points.
“They came out a lot of times in some zone defenses, which makes it hard to score sometimes, but I just thought we shared the ball real well,” Massengill said. “We got the looks we wanted. C.J. got in foul trouble and we were having to mix them in, and the other guys stepped up.”
Chase Mullins led Central with 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Justin Perkins added 12 points and six rebounds and Kasey Perkins had 11 points to give Central three players in double figures. Croix Shipman added seven points. Trevonne Williams had five points. Anthony Tomlinson had four points. Austin Swan had two points. Jaden Meadows and Hayden Smith each had one point.
Central (4-6) will look to bounce back against Lee County (1-12) to open up Tri-County Conference play.
South (12-1) will hope to get off to a strong start in the Greater Neuse Conference against Clayton (5-6). The Comets have struggled early but won the conference championship last year, and Massengill isn’t overlooking them.
“We won’t have to say much in the locker room before the game,” Massengill said. “The kids will be ready, they’ll be amped up for it, so it’ll be fun.”