SMITHFIELD -- While Smithfield-Selma had a hard time looking at the scoreboard, Clayton coach Marlon Lee was cautioning his team not to gaze at it either.
The Comets sprung out to an early lead and never looked back Friday, downing Smithfield-Selma 58-31 in a Greater Neuse River 4A Conference girls basketball contest.
Clayton led by 24 points at halftime and by as many as 33 in the second half to snap a four-game losing skid in demanding fashion.
“At the start of the second half I told them the score is 0-0. We needed to come out defensively and get stops,” Lee said.
Unsung Hero: The biggest roar from the Clayton fan section, cheerleaders and bench came midway through the third quarter when Abby Durham drove the lane and scored a layup. The Comets (12-7 overall, 5-7 conference) were up by more than 30 points at the time and the play seemed routine. But it was anything but routine.
Durham is a senior and a four-year member of the basketball program and the layup was just the second basket of her career. The first came on a 3-pointer against Garner on Jan. 23.
“This is a young lady that sticks around and perseveres. That’s what basketball is all about,” Lee said. “Life lessons like that.”
Putting up Numbers: Clayton had four players with at least nine points in Taisha Murphy (14), Vanessa Pitts (10), Jenna Harris (10) and Ashley Murphy (nine).
Sabrina Shepard led the Spartans with 14 points.
What worked: Coming into a rivalry game on the road on the heels of four straight losses, Lee wanted his team to jump on the Spartans (7-11, 3-9) early and they did. The Comets raced to an 18-2 lead and led 34-10 at halftime.
“We wanted to set the tone early,” Lee said. “We wanted to throw the first punches of the night and keep on punching.”
What didn't work: “They get up and down the court. And we don’t get up and down the court as well as a lot of teams,” Spartans coach William Sanders Jr. said.
The Comets’ sizable first-half lead was thanks in part to a barrage of quick possession field goals after turnovers or Spartan misses.
Best quote: “I enjoy playing them. I’d just love to beat them.” -- Sanders Jr., who is 0-4 against Clayton in two years since returning to leave the SSS girls team.
Feeling the impact: With two games remaining, Clayton will likely finish no worse than fifth in the Greater Neuse River Conference and is secured of a playoff bid. Smithfield-Selma, locked in a battle for sixth-place, finds itself in a tough spot with its two remaining games against conference-leader Southeast Raleigh and second-place East Wake.