Central splits non-conference matchups with Cleveland

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Harnett Central hosted Cleveland for a rare pair of February non-conference varsity basketball games Wednesday. The Lady Trojans looked dominant from start to finish in a 52-21 win, while the Central boys struggled in the second half of a 56-54 loss. Both games came the night after Central travelled to Tri-County Conference and Harnett County rival Western Harnett, in which the Trojans pulled off a varsity sweep.

Girls take no quarter

The win was never in doubt for Chelsey Cabe’s team. Central jumped out with a 19-9 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, taking a commanding 28-10 lead into halftime. They kept that going into the second half, outscoring the Rams 15-4 in the third quarter and 9-7 in the fourth to cap off the win.

“My big thing over the last three games has been, ‘I don’t want to win the game, I want to win every single quarter,’” Cabe said. “If you win every quarter there’s no way you can lose the game. We just don’t want to give up a quarter.”

Sophomore center Syniah McMiller led the way for Central (14-5, 6-1) with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, all without even stepping foot on the floor in the fourth quarter.

“Syniah’s learning how to use her body,” Cabe said. “She’s really learning how to post somebody up. For the longest time, I don’t know why, she’d think she’s a guard and when she gets it, she drops back and fades away. And now she’s realized, ‘Oh, well, I can score 20 points a game if I make a real post move and go into contact.’ And so for the last four games, she’s really started to go into contact and make post moves, which is so nice to see.”

Sophomore point guard Brittany Mills added 12 points and three steals. Senior sharpshooter Fayth Brown posted nine points on three 3-pointers along with four rebounds and three assists. Keanna Womble just missed a double-double with eight points and eight rebounds. Marcayla Jones had two points and six rebounds. Lyannah Molyneau had two points and three assists. Zykia Matthews had one point.

The Trojans dominated the offensive glass, racking up 25 offensive rebounds. Cabe said she hoped to see more of that effort on the defensive end though, as the Trojans only got 23 defensive rebounds. Eight of Cleveland’s 10 first-half points came on second-chance looks. Some of those woes are due to the absence of senior forward Lyndsey Brewer, who injured her knee last Friday against Lee County and is awaiting further evaluation.

“I love that we’re working hard on the offensive end to get the rebound, but we’ve got to do a better job,” Cabe said. “And Lyndsey being gone. Lyndsey averages seven rebounds a game. She kind of sneaks in there when you don’t realize it. But that’s part of what’s missing too.”

Next up for Central is a trip to Tri-County foe Southern Lee (1-19, 0-6) tonight. The Trojans handily won the home matchup 59-15.

Boys fall flat in second half

Central looked to be the better team in the first half of the boys’ game. They started strong with a 15-7 lead after the first quarter and carried a 30-18 advantage into the locker room. But Cleveland became the aggressor in the second half, dominating the paint and knocking down shots from the outside.

“For the most part, we did a decent job in the first half,” said Harnett Central boys’ coach Will Gage. “There was a couple of times we probably could’ve converted but we didn’t, but in the second half we came out flat, and it’s kind of the same thing we talked about at halftime at Western. I thought it was going to come down to 50-50 balls and come down to playing defense, and I don’t think that either one of them we excelled at in the second half [tonight].”

Cleveland tied up the score late in the third at 34-34 before Kasey Perkins hit a 3-pointer as time expired, giving Central a slight edge heading into the final period. The lead changed hands five times before the Rams took control. With Cleveland up 47-46, Dawson Smith converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to push his team’s lead to four. Another basket made it 52-46 with just 41.5 seconds left.

Central wasn’t quite ready to give up though. Chase Mullins got a layup, but it was neutralized by a pair of Cleveland free throws. Then Perkins hit his third triple of the night to cut the lead to three. Cleveland again coverted both free throws, but Kasey Perkins drew a foul on a made layup with 3.6 seconds left. With the score at 56-54, the Rams anticipated that Perkins would intentionally miss, but instead he sank the free throw. Central applied heavy pressure on the insuing inbound play and the Cleveland player though an errant pass that went straight out of bounds, giving Central a chance to tie or go for the win. The first pass was deflected back across the baseline, giving them 2.4 seconds. Central tried to lob it in to Mullins near the basket but he was unable to get off a clean look amid a swarm of Cleveland defenders.

“I will give our guys credit,” Gage said. “Who would’ve thought with 20-30 seconds left that we would have had a shot at it? I thought we battled back. We missed some shots in the second half that we typically make and hurt ourselves on a couple of occasions, but we’ve just got to learn from it.

Mullins had 16 points and nine rebounds and Kasey Perkins had 16 points and six rebounds to lead Central (11-8, 6-1). Trevonne Williams had a solid game with 13 points and five rebounds. Croix Shipman added three points, Jaden Meadows and Anthony Tomlinson each had two points and Justin Perkins had one point and five rebounds.

No coach ever wants their team to lose, but the bright side of this one for Central is that it doesn’t affect their conference record and gives them an opportunity to refocus. The Trojans have a huge road matchup tonight against Southern Lee (18-3, 6-1). The Cavaliers edged out a 54-47 win on Central’s home court last time they played, but a win for the Trojans would move them to first place in the Tri-County Conference standings.

“To be honest with you, in the second half we didn’t play well enough to win,” Gage said. “It might have been worse to have a lousy effort and still win. But I hope it comes across and they know that they still have work to do.”

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