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CLAYTON — The Cleveland boys basketball team ended what had been a losing skid with a 70-54 win over Smithfield-Selma, while the Spartans continued to slid deeper into 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference play.
By game’s end, the Rams played virtually every player on the bench, coasting to victory after leading by as much as 27 points in the fourth quarter as SSS lost its ninth game in a row.
“We really played as a team and we kind of helped each other out,” junior guard Walter Ghaffar said after a 19-point performance. “We kept everything kind of shared the ball and all that stuff. If we do that every game, we can come back strong and keep winning. We’ll be good the rest of the season.”
Though the game was handily won by the Rams, it didn’t start with quite that kind of advantage. The Spartans matched the Rams with 16 points in the first quarter, setting up what looked to be an evenly-matched game that would be contested deep into the second half.
“They came out in the first quarter playing well and we turned the ball over and stuff,” Cleveland head coach Jeff Davis said. “We fixed that.
Cleveland started the second quarter on a 7-1 run, shooting the ball well from close range and entered halftime up nine points — the precursor for what would be an explosive third quarter.
That quarter saw 23 points for the home team, with the offense flourishing by the work of a variety of scorers. Meanwhile, Smithfield-Selma managed just eight points and fell way behind.
“We couldn’t get a basket in the third quarter, second quarter we scored six points, third quarter we scored eight points and that was the ballgame,” SSS head coach Matt Cuddington said. “And couldn’t get stops, if you’re giving up buckets without getting points, then that’s math. That doesn’t work in your advantage.”
In that third quarter, Ghaffar scored 10 points and Robinson scored eight, helping their team out to a 24-point advantage before the fourth quarter began and their night was over.
“I think the biggest quarter was the third because in the first half we kind of came to a slow start,” Ghaffar said. “Once we started picking it up, it was pretty easy from there. We just did what we did and got the win.”
But it was the defense that most impressed Davis.
“I thought the second two quarters we played really well defensively,” Davis said. “The first quarter, they scored 16 and then they had 22 at halftime and then maybe 30 at the end of the third quarter.”
When the reserves came in, the smiles didn’t stop for Cleveland. Although the Spartans pressed hard to whittle the lead down from 20-plus points to an eventual 16, the final quarter was an opportunity for more players to get minutes — something the team hasn’t had the luxury of after a number of close games in a row.
Cleveland, who began conference play 0-2, needed the recovery win to end a four-game losing skid.
“We’re pretty happy,” Davis said. “We don’t play until next Friday, so you don’t want to go a week with a loss.”
Meanwhile, SSS is still searching for its identity and learning how to extend the high points and moments like the first quarter over the entire game.
“The thing we’ve got to do is consistently fight for 32 minutes the entire time,” Cuddington said.
Weir 2, Faulk 2, McNeill 7, White 11, Atkinson 6, Scott-McClarin 3, Parrott 6, Hinton 11, Gottuso 4, Dublin 2.
Matthews 6, Robinson 10, Ghaffar 19, Wiggins 8, Dawson Smith 7, Thrash 3, Stevens 8, Dylan Smith 2, Wright 1, Fields 6.
Score by quarters:
SSS 16 6 8 24 — 54
CvHS 16 15 23 16 — 70