Western Harnett and visiting South Johnston split varsity basketball games on Tuesday, with the Eagles winning the girls game and the Trojans taking the boys contest.
Defense powered Western Harnett to a 35-28 win over South Johnston in the girls game, the Lady Eagles’ first win of the season.
“We’ve been really stressing on defense,” said Western Harnett girls coach Matthew Smith. “Maybe a little bit too much. Maybe to the point where we need to work on some free throws (Western shot 11-for-29 at the free throw line). But the girls did lock down. They’ve bought in to knowing that they can play man-to-man. But we’re a pretty good zone team, too.”
South Johnston girls coach Whitney Williams said free throw shooting and identity issues plagued her team.
“I think the biggest thing, again, was free throws,” Williams said. “Twelve-for-23. Barely 50 percent. And on top of that, just knowing our game. Regardless of a win or two, I don’t believe we yet know what our game is. There were times when we were hollering, ‘Attack the rim,’ and we had a wide-open lane and we’d go out and shoot a three. Just knowing ourselves and our strategy and so forth, I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Junior Lanessa Bryson had nine points and senior Tenaejah McDougald and junior Makyia Mackey had seven points apiece to lead the Eagles (1-4).
Sydney Jackson had six points. Emonni Barber had four points. Makayla Bailey had two points.
The Eagles had to manage having several players in foul trouble, but got through the game with only one fouling out.
“Sydney Jackson said, ‘I’m sorry I fouled out,’” Smith said. “I told her, ‘If I didn’t want you to use five fouls, they’d have only given me four or only given me three. If you’re playing good defense and you get something called on you, I have nothing to complain about.’”
Senior Jenna Brown paced the Trojans (2-2) with 14 points.
“For Jenna, her biggest thing is she’s a leader,” Williams said. “She’s a leader. She believes that she should lead the floor and often times, that takes away from her shooting. We’re trying to drill it in her head that, ‘Although you are a point guard, you are also a shooting guard, so you need to shoot.’”
McKinley Sills had five points. Kaylee Creech had four points. Janay McDonald had three points. Nikki Lee had two points.
South hit six shots from the field in the first quarter and only two, layups from Sills in the second and fourth quarter, the rest of the game.
After South outscored Western 13-7 in the first quarter, Western outscored South 10-5 in the second, 7-4 in the third and 11-6 in the fourth.
South Johnston held off a fourth quarter rally to stay unbeaten on the season with a 59-50 win over Western Harnett.
“I thought offensively we played well early, sharing the ball,” said South Johnston boys coach Brody Massengill. “I thought we moved it well against the zone. And they were doing a thing where it seemed like every two or three passes, they would switch to some man and we picked up on that pretty quick. We got some good looks and it seemed like we got a lot of layups in the first half, which helps. I feel like every game we’ve played, we’ve gotten better because we’ve gotten in situations where it’s tight. Like last night (a 53-48 win at Wilson Hunt) we had a game where it was tight and we had to do stuff at the end and we made free throws at the end of the night.”
Western Harnett coach Seth Womble said the team continues to improve as the season goes on.
“Ball movement. We’re trying to learn some new plays and get the whole system in,” Womble said. “We haven’t had all 11 guys in a practice yet, but we’re getting better. Every practice, every game we’re getting better.”
A trio of seniors led the Trojans (4-0). C.J. Ray had 16 points, Thomas Dees had 15 points and Cole Winborne had 13 points.
“Thomas is a guy we’ve got to have and then for Cole to come in and score 13, that’s big,” Massengill said.
Sam Webster, Colby Norris and Jonathan Watts had four points apiece. David Carter had two points. Dylan Bates had one point.
The Eagles (1-4) also had four players score in double figures. Senior Christian Dantzler had 15 points, senior Wesley Lassiter had 11 points and sophomore Steven Lassiter had 10 points.
“I think those three guys are starting to get a little more comfortable in what we’re doing,” Womble said. “And I think our team is starting to understand their identity. They know they’ve got to get the ball inside-out. They know they’ve got to play defense with energy. And when Christian does those things, when he plays inside-out with his bigs and Wesley, it’s a good formula for success with our team this year.”
Tyrese Jones had six points. Deamonte Rankin and Kahlil McLean had three points apiece. Misha’el Vines had two points.
With South holding a 51-39 lead late in the fourth, back-to-back threes from Wesley Lassiter and Dantzler cut the lead to just six. But South shot 6-for-10 at the free throw line down the stretch to hold on for the win.
Western Harnett is at Cleveland on Thursday and South Johnston is at home against Harnett Central on Friday.
Prior to Friday’s game, South Johnston will recognize senior C.J. Ray for passing the 1,000-point career milestone mark during the Trojans’ 54-49 win over Southern Lee on Nov. 26.