A strong performance from the bench in the second half led Harnett Central to a 45-29 non-conference varsity girls basketball win at South Johnston on Wednesday night.
“Keanna Womble, Lya Molyneuax, Z (Zykia Matthews), Madeline Langdon and Aleecya Williams,” said Harnett Central coach Chelsey Cabe. “Those five stepped up big tonight. They are the reason we won that game by the margin that we did. That’s what you preach, ‘When you get your opportunity to go in there and do something, make me not be able to take you out of the game.’ That’s what they did. There was no reason for me to take them out, because they played so well.
“We’re still, I don’t know what we’ve been doing defensively. That’s what we’re working on tomorrow. Because we’re just not playing the ball that we play. We’ve got to get back to that because we start conference on Friday. I told them, ‘Your record is 0. Nothing.’”
South Johnston coach Whitney Williams was pleased with the team’s first-half play, but said the team needs to learn to continue that in the second half.
“We definitely, again, cannot finish,” Williams said. “Coming out in the third consistently it’s been five, seven, six points. We’ve definitely got to learn how to correct our third quarter and score more. And free throws. We were 5-for-22 at the free throw line. We lost by 16 and missed 17 free throws. Nothing we can do but get better from here. We see the improvement in these girls every day. It’s not that we’re not getting any better. It’s, again, we’ve got to learn how to finish.”
Junior Zykia Matthews had a career night to lead the visiting Trojans (7-3), with nine points and six rebounds.
“Z never played basketball until she was a freshman,” Cabe said. “Her athletic ability is crazy. Her speed for her size (5-foot-11) is crazy. If she can learn to be in control and get the knowledge of the game to go along with her skills, I think we will all be extremely impressed with the player that she is.”
Syniah McMiller had eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Brittany Mills had six points and three assists. Keanna Womble had five points and five rebounds. Fayth Brown and Lyanah Molyneuax had five points apiece. Madeline Langdon had four points. Lyndsey Brewer had two points and five rebounds. Marcayla Jones had one point and four rebounds.
The home Trojans (1-12) were led by junior Nikki Lee, with nine points.
“She’s a strong post player and plays like a guard,” Williams said. “It’s really good to have her in there and have her to step up as a junior coming in this year.”
Despite playing limited minutes, junior Kaylee Creech also had a strong performance in just her second game back after suffering a hip injury against Western Harnett on Nov. 27, with five points.
“She can only go, right now, two minutes a quarter,” Williams said. “We’re trying to slowly progress her back in. As she gets there, she’ll probably get more playing time. It means a lot (having her playing). The girls depend on her a lot. We depend on her a lot as a whole. It brings more confidence. You have that extra shooter in there that’s going to bring about more offense. She’s definitely a key player to our offensive side.”
Janay McDonald had four points, Jenna Brown had three points. Kennedy Byrd, Katon Blackmon, Paige Toler and Emma Jernigan had two points apiece.
Central opened the game with a 9-3 run before South rallied with eight unanswered to take an 11-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
After a competitive second quarter saw Central take a 22-20 lead into halftime, Central dominated the second half, outscoring South 15-5 in the third quarter and 8-4 in the fourth.
Both teams open conference play on the road Friday. South Johnston is at Greater Neuse 3-A Conference and county rival Clayton (9-3) and Harnett Central is at Tri-County Six 3-A Conference opponent Lee County (1-10).
Both coaches saw defense as the key to success to start conference.
“Have defensive intensity push offensive success,” Cabe said.
Williams has a specific defensive target in mind for Friday.
“(Clayton senior) Asia Todd (who is averaging 23 points per game this season),” Williams said. “Our goal is to stop Asia Todd and then I feel like everything else will fall into place.”