CLAYTON — Although still relatively early in the conference season, Friday night’s matchup between Cleveland and South Johnston, both unbeaten in conference, was the first big game in the Two Rivers 3A Conference girls basketball race this season.
In the end, the Trojans continued to roll in running their win streak to 12 games by defeating the Rams 52-35 and moved atop the standings as the only unbeaten team left.
South Johnston used good spacing on offense to build a 13-point lead in the third quarter and weathered a Rams’ run that cut the lead to six points on two separate occasions.
“It was for first place and they landed the first punch tonight,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “I just felt like we did not punch back as much as we needed.”
Brittany Preston and Shaniya Taylor led Cleveland on a 10-3 run over the final minutes of the third quarter to draw Cleveland to within 37-31.
The Rams again trimmed the lead to six points at the beginning of the fourth quarter but the comeback attempt was thwarted by the Trojans’ solid defense that held Cleveland scoreless for over six minutes in the final quarter.
“I was proud of our defense,” South Johnston coach Ronda Langdon Johnson said. “We have learned to shift, look and communicate together and we’ve just developed this great chemistry.”
If the defense was the winning blow for the Trojans, the halfcourt offense served up the body punches in the first half.
South’s starting unit, comprised of sophomores Emma Blackmon, McKinley Johnson and Anna Webster, as well as seniors Krista Collins and Alexis Massengill, worked well as a unit and routinely moved the ball around to the open shooter to build the first half lead.
Webster led the Trojans (13-4, 4-0) with 18 points, Collins posted 15 and Massengill nearly totaled a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.
“We’re blessed to have players that have good court sense and look for each other,” Langdon Johnson said. “The key, really, was everybody contributing.”
Taylor and Skyler Allen had big games off the bench for Cleveland as Taylor led all Rams with 11 points and Allen was next in line with eight. However, Cleveland (6-11, 3-1) fell behind by nine points by halftime while receiving just one point from its starting five over the first 16 minutes.
“It’s near the end of the first half of the round robin,” Danehower said of his team’s conference schedule. “We’ve got to finish that strong and move forward from there.
“We can’t let this loss bleed over into the next game.”