CLAYTON — Smithfield-Selma’s girls basketball team cooled off Cleveland on Monday night, escaping with a 41-38 victory in a Two River 3A Conference game that was settled at the free throw line.
The Spartans handed Cleveland just its second Two Rivers loss and snapped a three-game Rams’ winning streak, making four of six free throws in the final 32.3 seconds to nail down the victory.
“We had a different look out there tonight,” Smithfield-Selma coach William Sanders said. “We were looking (for a boost), and I think we got it from the lineup. We tried to give it to them at the end, but we pulled it out. That is what we needed.”
Sanders said he inserted sophomore Parker Watson and junior Dazmine Young in the starting lineup. Young had seven points, complementing the 15 points from Diamond Blackston that led Smithfield-Selma (4-17, 3-5 Two Rivers).
Smithfield-Selma took a four-point lead on a free throw by Watson with 2:36 and then held on as Cleveland (9-12, 6-2) could convert only three of nine free throws the rest of the way.
After a pair of free throws by Young with 14.3 seconds left put Smithfield-Selma up 40-37, Cleveland had a pair of free throws with 5.4 seconds left and missed both of them. After the second one bounced off the rim, several players fought for the rebound and a jump ball resulted.
Possession went to the Spartans and Dannya Tavarez made one of two free throws to give Smithfield-Selma a 41-37 lead.
Myrayna Watkins made one of two free throws with 2.4 seconds left, and Cleveland came up with a steal on the ensuing inbounds play but missed a shot at the buzzer in a wild finish.
“We missed free throws and we just didn’t finish when we had some opportunities inside,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “It’s just one of those games, a tough game. (Smithfield-Selma) is at the end of their season and trying to win a few games at the end.
“We’re just trying to finish our season strong.”
Miranda Hinton and Brittany Preston led Cleveland with 11 points each and Myrayna Watkins had 10.
Cleveland led by three points at halftime, but Blackston scored the first five points of the second half, put the Spartans up 23-21 and it was back-and-forth the rest of the way.
“I thought we played hard until the very end,” Rams coach Danehower said. “We are obviously disappointed in the loss, but the effort was there. Give Smithfield-Selma a lot of credit. They played hard, believed they could win and pulled it out at the end.”