SMITHFIELD — Smithfield-Selma capped off its first of back-to-back three-game weeks in the Two Rivers 3A Conference Friday night as it played host to Erwin Triton.
As both games played out, however, it may have felt like more of a Wednesday night game as neither the boys or girls teams could get all the way over the hump, falling short in their comeback bids to erase sizable deficits.
In the boys contest, the Spartans tried to finish the week three-for-three and continue to rocket up the standings in search of the third and final playoff spot but fell to the Hawks 59-51 after falling behind by double digits in the first half.
Similarly, the girl’s team dug itself a 12-point hole, clawed back to get to within two points before ultimately coming up short 46-33.
Spartans put scare in Hawks
The Smithfield-Selma boys played toe-to-toe with Triton, the Two Rivers 3A Conference leader, for the game’s first 12 minutes before a late Hawks’ 12-4 run to close out the quarter had the Spartans down by eight at the half.
Smithfield-Selma turned up the defensive pressure, however, in the third quarter and closed to within 36-34 after Jeffrey David found Zay Best for an easy bucket. However, the Spartans would never gain the lead as the Hawks methodically stretched the lead back out to as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we played well in stretches, well enough to win in stretches,” Smithfield-Selma coach James Robinson said. “But there was about a two-and-a-half minute stretch in the first half where we took some really, really bad shots that hurt us.”
The resilient Spartans (6-14, 3-4), who began the week with big wins over Western Harnett and South Johnston to join the playoff picture in earnest, never quit.
Best once again attacked the basket late in the fourth quarter and converted before a subsequent steal led to a Raequan Smith lay-up with 39 seconds left to inch Smithfield-Selma to within six points of the Hawks (14-5, 6-1).
After a pair of missed foul shots, the Spartans had the chance to get to within one possession of the lead but a rushed three-pointer barely touched any iron and Triton’s Nick Parker, who led all scorers with 17 points, converted a pair of free throws to preserve the win.
The Hawks also received a solid contribution from Dequill Avery, who finished his night with 12 points.
Smithfield-Selma’s Raequan Smith was joined by the emerging Tonio Mayo to pace the Spartans with 14 points each. Best turned in a 12-point, nine rebound performance.
The Spartans enter the final week of the regular season tied with Corinth Holders for third place in the conference with the two teams set to meet at Corinth Holders this week.
“I like where we’re at,” said Robinson, referring to where his team stands in relation to the playoff hunt. “Right now, I think we’re probably playing the best ball we’ve played all year.”
SSS girls on outside looking in
In the girls contest, the Spartans put together a 14-4 run in the third quarter to pull to within 23-21 with 4:55 to play in the period after Triton came out firing on all cylinders to build a 19-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Twice Smithfield-Selma had the ball down three points with a chance to tie the game only to come up with errant three-point attempts. Triton responded with a huge 9-2 run to close out the quarter and gain the separation once again it had worked so hard to build in the first half.
The Hawks (7-12, 3-4) got the ball inside initially by getting the ball to the high post where Ashley Gaines and Tarica Worney canned a few jumpers early on which then created space for Triton’s Brittany Smith to operate close to the basket.
Smith finished the game with 13 points and 14 rebounds off the bench in limited minutes. Worney teamed up with Smith to the tune of 11 points and 15 rebounds to further lay the Hawks’ claim to the paint.
Smithfield-Selma, outmatched inside, attacked from the perimeter. Diamond Blackston, Dannya Tavarez and Dazmine Young combined to go 8-25 from behind the three-point line to earn the bulk of the Spartans’ points.
Tavarez led the way with 11 points while Blackston and Young both finished with nine points. Smithfield-Selma managed just a pair of two-point field goals for the entire game.
The Spartans (3-17, 2-5 conference) dropped a full game behind Triton for the third and final playoff seed from the conference with three games left to play.