A fourth-quarter surge helped South Johnston survive a heated varsity boys basketball battle with visiting rival Triton Friday, winning 65-56 to remain unbeaten and take a season sweep over the Hawks.
“That’s a good team (Triton),” said South Johnston coach Brody Massengill. “I thought the way we shot free throws at the start of the game, we were going to be in a lot of trouble. But we withstood it. They came out in the third quarter and they punched us in the mouth and made shots, but we withstood it. We shot much better from the line in the second half. Defensively, I thought we made it hard on them most of the game. It’s always nice to win these rivalries, but we’ve got to keep getting better. We turned the ball over too much.”
Triton coach T.J. Morrison said the Hawks were not physical enough in the contest.
“We just weren’t being physical,” Morrison said. “We were not touching anybody on the boards, boxing out. On our offense we were setting screens and not touching anybody, just running by each other. We just weren’t being physical and getting after it enough.”
Junior C.J. Ray had 27 points and senior JaQuain Smith had 21 points to pace the Trojans (7-0).
“(Ray) has been our constant all year,” Massengill said. “We want to work inside-out and we want him to touch the basketball if he’s out on the floor. He’s getting better at passing out. They doubled him a lot in the second half and he made some good passes out. JaQuain, he leads it. He gets us in what we need to and I thought he did a real good job of attacking the rim in the second half.”
Senior Jacob Thornton, who was out with an injury when South played at Triton on Nov. 30, had 12 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, for South.
“J. Byrd hit three threes in the fourth quarter and some of those were from C.J. getting the ball back to the outside,” Massengill said.
Clayton Blackman had three points and Colby Norris had two points.
Senior Colby Parker had 11 points and five rebounds, junior Travion Sanders had 11 points and senior Kalil Hodges had 10 points to lead the Hawks (4-3).
Emari White had eight points. Derreon Burnett had seven points. Myshon Smith and Shaiheim Strickland had four points apiece. Dalen Thompson had one point.
South dominated the first quarter, taking an 18-7 lead. Triton improved in the second quarter, but South held a 33-23 lead at the half.
Late in the second quarter, Triton was assessed a series of technical fouls after Hodges got into a heated argument with some members of South’s student section and drew the first technical. Burnett was also assessed a technical for leaving the bench during the incident and Morrison was assessed another during a discussion with the officials. Morrison had already been assessed one technical in the first quarter, meaning an automatic ejection. Assistant Pat McNeill took over head coaching duties for the remainder of the game.
“There was a time when we didn’t keep our composure, me included,” Morrison said. “From what I understand, they fought in the second half and that’s what we ask and that’s what coach Pat asks. I love having him with us, knowing he’s seen me in action. He’s played for me and he knows what we’re expecting and probably is a better athletic mind than I am anyway, so I’m glad that he was able to help us out.”
Triton rallied in the third quarter with a 14-4 run, tying the game at 37 late in the third on a score from Parker.
“We went into halftime and I challenged them to fight,” McNeill said. “Not for this game, but for each other. I challenged them and they came out and they showed that they wanted to play. They showed that they cared about each other.
“In a sense, this was a make or break moment. Today we bonded together. In a sense, we kind of needed this. They answered the challenge, they came back, they fought hard and they got better. That’s all you can ask.”
But Ray ended the third quarter with an old-fashioned three-point play to give the lead back to the Trojans.
“That was huge because we hadn’t scored in about four minutes of play before he made that basket,” Massengill said.
After Hodges scored to start the fourth, another three-point play, this time from Blackman, swung the momentum in the Trojan’s favor for the last time as South took control with a 13-6 run and held off the Hawks down the stretch.
“Besides all the incidents that happened, I know they (Triton’s players) will remember this game,” McNeill said. “I know we didn’t come out on top, but they had fun in the end.”
Triton travels to Terry Sanford on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to take part in the Cumberland County Holiday Tournament.
South Johnston is at North Johnston on Thursday.