BENSON — Coach David Dewey didn’t have a lot to smile about with his South Johnston basketball team last season.
But after the Trojans collected a big early season win on the road Monday night, the coach couldn’t resist a big grin.
South placed four players in double figures in dominating the second half and easing past West Johnston 56-46.
Will Holmes led the way with 16 points while classmate Garrett Smith added 12, Brett Clifton 11 and Blake Tart 10 for the Trojans, who improved to 1-2 on the young season.
Last year, West Johnston, playing in the Greater Neuse River 4A, had just two wins in a 2-20 campaign; both were over South Johnston. The Trojans, who were in the Eastern Carolina 3A last year and are now in the Two Rivers 3A, finished 3-15 last season.
“That was a big one, especially going into the holiday,” Dewey said. “These guys responded to some adversity tonight. I think our senior leaders did a good job.
“We played our first two games without our point guard (Alan Johnson), and he was a little rusty and made some poor passes early. But when he got hit in the third quarter, Garrett and Will and Gage Massengill really stepped up and handled their press well. We didn’t turn it over much after that.”
West (0-2) got nine points from Jarvin Holder, eight from Ryne Turner and seven from Tre Frederick.
“We just didn’t do a good job of finishing tonight,” West coach Kris Bennett said. “I think we missed 20 shots in the paint, and it’s been a key to our offense to attack the rim and score around the basket.
“Tonight we had plenty of opportunities, but we just didn’t follow through. We’re quicker than we were last year and more athletic. We just have to score by committee.”
The Trojans broke open a nip-and-tuck battle over the final 10 minutes, outscoring the Trojans 38-26 in the second half.
Emotions were running high after Johnson took a bruise below the eye with 1:58 left in the third quarter.
Holmes received a technical for dissent, and Turner’s two free throws made it 31-28, but the Trojans scored the next eight points, with four players scoring in the run, and never trailed again.
“It’s a real big win,” Holmes said. “We’ve been struggling, but we had a little extra urge tonight. We’ve had problems scoring in the second half even when we play good defense.
“But tonight we were able to score the points we needed. I feel like we can win a lot of games this year. This will set a good tone.”
Smith said the Trojans took last season’s sweep personally and wanted to get their pride back.
“We’ve been working hard in practice,” he said. “We try to control things we can control and let it be our game.
“This was a huge step for us tonight.”
Turner said he expects the Wildcats to get better as the rebuilding squad plays more games together.
“We lost our momentum in the second half,” he said. “I thought we lost focus.
“South played a lot better tonight than they did in either game last year. They moved the ball around and made open shots and converted when we didn’t.”
The teams play again Dec. 16 at South Johnston.
West played at Fayetteville 71st Tuesday night. South’s next game is Dec. 3 at Princeton.