ERWIN — Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical.”
One wonders what the Yankee legend would say about basketball, but if you ask Smithfield-Selma boys basketball coach James Robinson, the same rational applies.
The Spartans were physical enough in their Two Rivers Conference meeting with Erwin Triton, but the mental part was lacking at key times in a 56-50 loss to the host Hawks.
That outcome gave Triton a sweep of the varsity contests Friday night, as the Spartans’ girls couldn’t hold the lead down the stretch, dropping a heart-breaking, 49-48 decision in the matchup between winless league foes.
Solid start not enough for boys
Smithfield-Selma’s boys did almost everything right in the first half against the Hawks (10-5, 2-1). By mixing up their defensive looks throughout the first half, the Spartans (4-12, 1-2), kept the Hawks off-balance en route to a 27-19 halftime lead. That lead was built behind the free-throw shooting of Quantez Leach and the inside games of Zay Best and Tony Hobbs.
Leach connected on 8-of-10 first-half free throws, accounting for all his scoring in the first two periods, while Best popped in six of his game total of 11 points and Best five of his seven. But the Spartans could have held a much larger first-half lead, had they kept their focus.
Looking to add a little flash to their first-half form, the Spartans came up empty on three attempted dunks, two on break-away opportunities, which kept the Hawks within striking distance.
But one of the things which hurt the Spartans more than the failures at highlight reel moments were technical fouls assessed at the start of both halves, for dunking during warm-ups.
“I think the name of the game is 85 percent mental,” said SSS coach James Robinson. “I think we gave them 14-16 points because we did not play mentally.”
Triton’s Nick Parker made the Spartans pay for the pre-game dunks by canning both free throws before a second had ticked off the clock, for a 2-0 Triton lead. Parker managed only one of the two free throws in a similar start to the second half, but Triton made the Spartans suffer for the halftime gaffe, nailing a 3-pointer on the subsequent possession, trimming the margin to 27-23.
Triton went on to knot the score at 28-all on a Charles Eason baseline drive following a free throw by Best, and Parker drilled a 3-pointer following the fourth missed dunk by the Spartans.
A basket by Leach, who led all scorers with 14 points, and a free throw along with a 3-pointer from Requan Smith gave the Spartans a 34-30 lead with 3:41 left in the third quarter. But Triton, which made the necessary halftime adjustments, figured out the changing Spartans defenses and went on a 16-4 run that extended two minutes into the final stanza.
Hawks nip SSS girls in final seconds
A pair of defensive lapses in the closing seconds sent the Smithfield-Selma girls reeling to their 14th loss in 15 outings, while dropping them to 0-3 in Two Rivers play. Behind Diamond Blackston’s game-high 26 points, the Spartans had rallied from a 27-16 second quarter deficit, surging to a 46-41 lead with 3:20 left in the game.
Follow shots by the Hawks’ Jamecia McNair and Ashley Gaines cut the deficit to 46-45, and the failure to connect on the front ends of consecutive one-and-bonus opportunities by the Spartans, gave Triton the ball with 41 seconds to play.
Khadizah Gaulden drove up the floor with the rebound virtually uncontested laying the ball in with 34 seconds to play to give Triton a 47-46 lead. Blackston responded with a pair of free throws with 15.9 seconds to play,putting the Spartans back up 48-47, but the Spartans lost sight of Octavia Hart, who roared up the right side of the floor, rolling in the winning basket with five seconds to play.
“We had a defensive breakdown on the last play,” said Spartans coach William Sanders. “The girl was on the side over on the right – no one picked her up. I really thought we had this one.”