FOUR OAKS -- South Johnston has been working on beating pressure defense since the beginning of the season. And it paid off Tuesday night.
Solving Cleveland’s press in the second half, the Trojans picked up their second victory of the season with a 51-42 decision over the Rams.
“I think breaking the press was really big for us in the second half,” South Johnston coach David Dewey said. “We panicked a little bit in the second quarter and made eight turnovers in the last five minutes of the first half. But we only made seven turnovers in the second half.
“We had no choice but to work on the press. Every team seems to want to press us.”
After a sluggish first half that ended in an 18-18 tie, neither team scored in the first four minutes of the third quarter. Then the Trojans got going.
DJ Collins broke the scoring drought on a three-point play with 3:52 left in the third period and Collins and Will Holmes combined on 11 points in an 11-2 South Johnston run that pushed the Trojans’ advantage to 29-20 with 1:30 left in the quarter.
Holmes, who had a pair of 3-pointers during the pivotal stretch and sank four 3-pointers for the game, finished with a game-high 16 points. Collins added 13 and Alan Johnson 12 for the Trojans (2-16, 2-7 Eastern Carolina 3A Conference).
The shooting of Collins and Holmes was big, Dewey said. But the first thing he wanted to talk about was the defense of sophomore Brett Clifton.
“He didn’t score a point, but Brett played great defense,” Dewey said. “(Cleveland’s Bobby) Stenborg is a great player and Brett stuck to him like glue the entire game. To hold him to 12 points in really strong.”
Stenborg’s 12 points led Cleveland (6-15, 3-7). Gilbert King had 11.
For Holmes, a junior, picking up a win late in the season was important for a team that has just three seniors.
“This feels real good,” Holmes said. “Everybody played well together as a team tonight. Our defense was real, real good. All it came down to was effort and the shots were falling when they needed to.
“This team always plays real hard. I think our effort has been there all year. I’m real proud of that.”
The effort was there again Tuesday. And the execution also was there in the second half, when the Trojans’ work against the press in practice carried over to the game and helped produce a victory.