CLAYTON — At halftime of his team’s Two Rivers 3A Conference game against South Johnston, Cleveland coach John Jacobs resorted to a tactic that he normally doesn’t use: guiding his team back to the locker room and challenging them.
And although the details of what was said were not revealed, the point obviously hit home as the Rams dominated the third quarter to help nail down an important 46-35 conference victory.
Down nine points at the break, Cleveland outscored South Johnston 17-1 in the third period with Garrett Smith’s foul shot with eight second left in the quarter being the extent of the Trojans’ scoring output in the frame.
“In the first half, it looked like we were just going through the motions and I just don’t think the effort was there” Jacobs said. “At halftime, I told them they had to come together as a team and stop worrying about themselves and I challenged them a little bit.”
Bobby Stenborg was the catalyst in the third quarter with nine of his 16 points coming in the pivotal stretch that also included a couple of steals that led to more easy baskets for the surging Rams.
As the hustle displayed on the defensive end led to offense for Cleveland, South Johnston, which had opened up the contest hot from the perimeter, cooled down.
“They came out and played some really good defense,” South Johnston coach David Dewey said. “They started making their shots and we quit making ours.”
Senior guard Will Holmes made his first two 3-pointers of the night to give the Trojans an early 6-0 lead but was unable to score again the rest of the game as Cleveland defenders, prominently Isaiah Barnes, shadowed him the duration of the contest.
Josh Bethune and Blake Tart also connected from 3-point range early in the game, but South Johnston never was able to find the balance of both the backcourt and frontcourt working in unison.
“We seem to either have our bigs playing well one night or the perimeter playing well one night,” said Dewey. “If we could ever get it together to have 32 minutes from everybody, we’d be alright.”
Alan Johnson led the way for the Trojans (8-9, 1-3) with nine points, while David Ennis pitched in with seven.
In addition to Stenborg, Wanyae Hatfield had an effective game with eight points and seven rebounds while Chase Jackson came off the bench with seven points for Cleveland.
The win helped the Rams stay in a first place tie with Triton, which Cleveland defeated in the two teams’ first meeting of the season 14 days ago.
For the Rams, being in a position to compete for a conference title signals new territory and it’s one Jacobs is trying to help Cleveland navigate, hopefully not always needing to rely on halftime speeches to do so.
“This is a pretty close league,” Jacobs said. “We’ve never been in this position before where everybody can beat you any night.
“The intensity always has to be there.”