South Johnston ended the first half of Greater Neuse 3-A Conference play with a junior varsity and varsity basketball sweep over visiting Johnston County rival Cleveland on Tuesday night.
South Johnston held off a fourth-quarter rally from Cleveland to take a 55-39 win in the varsity girls game.
“Very good game,” said South girls coach Whitney Williams. “We definitely had showings from some that we hadn’t seen in a while. Mattie Wheeless came in and stepped up. She’d been playing JV and came in and stepped up for us because we’ve had a few out sick.”
The win is the first girls basketball win over Cleveland by South Johnston since a 58-53 overtime win at home on Feb. 17, 2014 and breaks an eight-game losing streak to the Rams. South assistant coach Kayla Allen was a senior on that South team, which went 10-0 in conference that season.
Sophomore Janay McDonald led the Trojans (3-16, 2-3 GNC) with 17 points.
“Janay definitely shot the lights out tonight,” Williams said. “I’m glad she could get that in for her own self-esteem and confidence.”
Mattie Wheeless and Nikki Lee had nine points apiece. Jenna Brown had seven points. Kennedy Byrd and Kaylee Creech had five points apiece. Katon Blackmon had three points.
South had a strong performance at the free throw line, shooting a combined 17-for-22 (77.3 percent) at the charity stripe, led by 5-of-7 (71.4 percent) shooting from McDonald and a perfect 4-for-4 shooting from Wheeless.
“One thing we’ve definitely been focusing on has been free throws,” Williams said. “Coming from 20 percent in a game to well over 60 percent is really good for us. That’s definitely a plus.”
The Rams (2-15, 0-5) were led by senior Mariah Ailes, with 14 points, and sophomore Alisha Lucas, with 11 points.
Aajiah Alexander had six points, Hannah Harrison and Emma Loggins had three points apiece and Meghan Ellenberger had two points.
South led by as much as 20 in the contest, at 37-17 early in the third quarter.
With the Trojans holding a 42-24 lead to start the fourth, the Rams went on an 11-1 run to cut the lead back to single digits. But scores from Brown and Blackmon started the Trojans a 12-4 run to end the game.
“They (Brown and Blackmon’s scores) were definitely crucial,” Williams said. “They were a turning point for us.”
South boys bounce back
South Johnston’s boys rebounded from taking their first conference loss at East Wake Friday by edging Cleveland 47-42 Tuesday.
“Two straight games holding people to 40 points,” said South Johnston boys coach Brody Massengill. “We just had two games where we didn’t score a lot. C.J. (Ray) and JaQuain (Smith) carried us through offensively and we had other guys to step up defensively. Jackson Raynor, one of our seniors, we pulled him in with about four minutes to go, defensively, and he stopped the dribble penetration by himself.
They (Cleveland) find a way to keep games close and low-scoring. They played hard. I thought both teams played hard. Offensively, I thought we turned the ball over a little too much and it was kind of just one of those nights. We’re 17-2 and 4-1 after the first little bit of the conference. We’ve just got to keep at it and keep going.”
Junior C.J. Ray had 22 points and senior JaQuain Smith had 14 points to lead the Trojans (17-2, 4-1).
Clayton Blackman had four points, Jacob Thornton had three points and Jackson Raynor and Colby Norris had two points apiece.
Senior Hamilton Harrison had 14 points and junior Dawson Smith had 13 points to pace the Rams (7-10, 1-4).
Zach Matthews had seven points and Jaylon Ruffin, Joi Williams, Deon Williams and Dylan Wiggins had two points apiece.
Cleveland took a 16-13 lead at the end of the first quarter, but South dominated the second, outscoring Cleveland 18-8 to take a 31-24 lead at the half.
After outscoring South 7-6 to cut into the lead in the third quarter, Cleveland started the fourth with an 8-4 run to cut the lead to just two, at 41-39. But after South answered with a 6-3 run, Cleveland could not make the shots it needed to complete the comeback.
“We switched defenses a couple of times in the second half,” Massengill said. “We tried to go through some things and went back man at the end. We did our jobs. We made them take tough shots.”
South Johnston won the JV girls game 19-8 and won the JV boys game 48-45 in overtime.
South Johnston starts the second half of the conference slate at home against county rival Clayton on Thursday. The Trojans split contests at Clayton on Jan. 11, winning the boys game while the Comets took the girls game.