SMITHFIELD — Cleveland’s girls basketball team started slowly against Smithfield-Selma Friday. But the Rams made up for it in a big way over the final three quarters.
Down 10-0 early and 12-4 at the end of the first quarter, the Rams rallied in the second quarter to take a 20-19 halftime lead and never looked back in a 51-37 victory in the Two River 3A Conference opener for both teams.
“It was 10-0 and we finally got a basket and it seemed like it just sparked us,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “We started rebounding and doing all the things we had been talking about.
“We got out of school early and we hung around, ate a team meal. I’m not sure if we just weren’t quite ready coming out. I know we were focused, but physically I don’t think we were ready.”
The sluggishness wore off after the first eight minutes. The Rams (3-7, 1-0 Two Rivers) outscored Smithfield-Selma 16-7 in the second quarter to take the lead at halftime.
The second half was all Rams. Cleveland outscored the Spartans (0-11, 0-1) 18-9 in the third quarter and 12-9 in the final quarter.
“That is the kind of consistency we have been talking about, trying to put together those back-to-back quarters where we have 12, 15 or 18 points and hold the opponents in single digits. You string those together and that is how you win games.”
The Rams forced numerous Spartans turnovers – pressuring Smithfield-Selma into nine turnovers in the third period alone when Cleveland took charge. Switching defenses from a zone to a man-to-man and back kept the Spartans off balance.
“We just kept switching up the defenses,” Danehower said. “I thought we really did a good job on No. 23 (Dannya Tavarez). We wanted to keep somebody on her. She is really the key to their team.”
Tavarez, a junior guard, scored 11 points for the Spartans. Fellow guard Diamond Blackston had 17.
“We got relaxed and thought the other team was going to let us run away with it,” Smithfield-Selma coach William Sanders said. “We didn’t get up and down the floor tonight. We didn’t execute on offense.
“We had some really good practices and I told our coaches that worries me sometimes. We expected it to be smooth sailing.”
Amber Scott, a sophomore center, led the Rams with 17 points and junior guard Brittany Preston had 15. Myrayna Watkins contributed 10 rebounds for Cleveland.
The Rams went on an 11-2 run in the first four minutes of the third period to take charge, getting six points from Preston – who had a 3-pointer from the left side and converted a 3-point play when she was fouled on a fast-break basket and made the free throw. Preston hit another 3-pointer with 2:50 left in the period to push the margin back up 10 points.
Cleveland’s nonconference schedule toughened up the Rams, Danehower said. Of Cleveland’s first nine games, eight were against 4A schools.
“We played a really hard schedule and that paid off for us tonight,” Danehower said. “We really stepped in there and rebounded the ball. We just needed to string some wins together. We have won three out of five. It feels good at Christmas to have some momentum.”