It was standing room only at Harnett Central on Tuesday night as the host Trojans surged in the first half and held off a second-half rally from visiting Harnett County rival Triton to take a 72-69 Tri-County Six 3-A Conference varsity boys basketball win.
“It’s kind of like the first quarter the other day against Lee Senior (Central led by 20 at the end of the first quarter, but lost 67-55),” said Harnett Central coach Will Gage. “I don’t think we could have played much better in the first half. I thought everybody was hitting shots. I thought everybody was hitting the boards. When we had misses, we had guys hitting put back shots. But I think the ultimate equalizer there was instead of being a trading baskets game, we were playing defense. We talked about it before the second half that we thought they had a run in them and we couldn’t be content. We talked about playing like it was 0-0. But it’s hard to keep that level up there and hard to shoot that well for four quarters. But we wanted a W. We needed one. So, we were glad to get away with one.”
Triton coach T.J. Morrison said the Hawks gave themselves too big a hole to climb out of.
“We’ve been telling them all year long, ‘You can’t give up that many points and expect to be in the ball game and be successful,’” Morrison said. “We gave up 20 in the first quarter and 22 in the second quarter and only scored six and nine. You can’t be effective that way. On the flip side, down 27 at the half and get down over 30 in the third quarter and to fight back, cut it to nine, cut it to seven, cut it to three, that’s a heck of a fight. But you’ve got to do it the whole time. You can’t just do it a half or a quarter. It’s got to be a consistent effort.”
A trio of seniors scored in double digits to lead the Trojans (9-7, 3-2 TCSC). Anthony Tomlinson had 25 points and five steals, Justin Perkins had 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks and Tre Williams had 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“Generally, Ant takes really good shots,” Gage said. “He doesn’t take a shot he doesn’t think he can make.”
Croix Shipman had seven points and six rebounds, Austin Swan had six points and Richard Edwards had two points, five rebounds and three steals.
Gage thought the raucous home crowd played a factor in the Trojans’ level of play.
“I think our guys kind of fed off of it and I thought we were running the floor well on both ends,” Gage said. “Unbelievable shooting and we played good half court defense.”
Senior Josiah Lett had a double-double to lead the Hawks (9-9, 2-3), with 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.
“Jo’s so strong and he’s a smart player,” Morrison said. “On the offensive end, when we get him the ball, I feel like he can muscle through a guy. On the defensive end, he blocks shots so well. He gets the ball so high and is able to block without fouling. We’ve got to look for him more. And everybody knows in basketball if you get it inside, it opens up the outside, which I think it did for Jamari (Amerson) and Tra (Sanders) and a couple of guys to get some looks and start having some success.”
Three more Triton players tallied in double digits. Junior Jamari Amerson had 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals, senior Travion Sanders had 10 points, four assists and three steals and junior Dalen Thompson had 10 points and three steals.
Leyton Kelly and Ladrabious Eason had three points apiece. Jaden Geddie had two points and five rebounds. Keionta Burnett and Myshon Smith had two points apiece.
Central dominated the first half, outscoring Triton 20-6 in the first quarter and 22-9 in the second to lead 42-15 at the half.
“They had to have been shooting 75-80 percent,” Morrison said. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything like it. I don’t know if it was just they were hot or we were awful on defense, but they were hitting everything. It was unreal.”
With Central’s lead up to 32, at 54-22 midway through the third quarter, a Thompson free throw and an Amerson three sparked a Triton rally. The Hawks went on a 42-12 run, with a Sanders three cutting the lead to just two, at 66-64 late in the fourth quarter.
After seven unanswered pushed Central’s lead back up to seven, Triton responded with a 5-1 run, but time ran out on the Hawks’ rally and Central escaped with the victory.
At the halfway point in conference play, Harnett Central sits alone in second place and Triton is in a three-way tie for third with Union Pines (8-11, 2-3) and Lee County (6-13, 2-3).
Both teams start the second half of conference play on the road on Friday. Harnett Central is at Union Pines and Triton is at Lee County.