LILLINGTON — Smithfield-Selma girls basketball coach William Sanders had a sneaking suspicion about his team’s 54-45 loss at Western Harnett on Friday night before it even began.
“I saw them during warmups and it was like a 3-point shooting drill,” Sanders said of Western. “I think four out of the starting five were just back there shooting 3s the whole time during warmups. I knew right then what kind of a night we were going to have.”
With the Spartans leading 35-33 early in the fourth quarter, Western Harnett’s Meridith Randolph connected on three consecutive 3-pointers to put the Eagles back in front for good. Western Harnett made good on seven 3-pointers in all and was complemented by a 17-for-29 effort from the foul line in grabbing their first win of the season.
“They got it going. And I told them in the timeout (just prior to Randolph’s rally) that if they hit their first 3 it’s going to get them fired up and that’s exactly what happened,” Sanders said.
The Eagles outscored the Spartans 21-10 thereafter to close out the first meeting between the Two Rivers 3A Conference foes. In a statistical oddity, Western Harnett scored just 11 points in the first and third quarters combined but poured in 43 points in the second and fourth quarters.
What Worked: As well as Western Harnett shot the ball, Smithfield-Selma was equally effective from the outside. The Spartans canned five three-pointers of their own and 10 of their 17 field goals came from outside the paint.
“We were trying to get people open, especially for 3s,” Sanders said. “We’ve got people that can shoot them. They played good defense against us which I expected but we’ve got to fight through it.”
Highlight Reel: Western Harnett’s Caliee Mesler hit a 3-pointer with just seconds to play in the first half. But not to be outdone, the Spartans quickly inbounded the ball to point guard Diamond Blackston who pushed it upcourt with the clock dwindling. As she reached the halfcourt line, Blackston heaved one that just beat the buzzer and banked off the glass and in for certainly the most thrilling bucket of the night. The basket trimmed the Eagles’ halftime lead to 26-24.
In a prelude, Smithfield-Selma’s Dannya Tavarez hit a buzzer-beating jumper at the end of the first quarter.
Putting up numbers: Blackston led the Spartan charge with 20 points and was joined in double figures by Tavarez with 10. Randolph, who entered the game averaging 9.0 points per game for the Eagles, led all scorers with 21 points.
Turning Point: The Spartans trailed 33-27 near the end of the third quarter but scored the next eight points of the game to pull ahead 35-33 on a Blackston basket early in the fourth. That’s when Randolph lit up three 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions for Western Harnett. The Spartans never inched closer than three points the rest of the way.
Smithfield-Selma dropped to 1-12 on the season and 0-2 in the conference while Western Harnett improved to 1-11 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
Best Quote: “The best game we played this season was against Clayton at home (a 50-45 loss to the 9-4 Comets),” Sanders said. “I told them before the game to just pretend that’s who we’re playing. That didn’t work.”