LAURINBURG — After his Clayton Comets lost in the semifinals of the Greater Neuse River Conference tournament, coach Marlon Lee told his girls to relax, play good ball and enjoy the upcoming postseason.
Thus far, the Comets are enjoying every minute of being a road warrior in the East Region girls’ basketball tournament.
On Monday, the Comets, seeded 12th in the East, shocked fifth-seeded Lumberton of the Southeastern Conference, 62-55. Two night later, the Comets continued their enjoyment with a 58-44 stunner over fourth-seeded and Southeastern Conference champion Scotland County.
Behind 30 points from sophomore guard Tasha Murphy, the Comets roared out of the gates and built a 16-5 first-quarter cushion against the stunned Fighting Scots.
“We are in a very strong conference,” Lee said. “And we had a lot of close losses that could have been wins for us.
“But when we stepped out on the floor tonight, we didn’t see a team that looked like an East Wake or a Southeast Raleigh.”
What the Comets did see was a team it knew it could run with on offense with its speed and stop on defense, whether in a zone or a half-court trap.
Clayton used both in the opening quarter behind a balanced scoring attack paced my Murphy, who pumped in eight points, including the first of four 3-pointers on the night.
That bucket ignited an 11-3 surge that gave the Comets, who improved to 16-9, early command of the game.
It also provided Clayton with a lead it would never relinquish.
Playing with confidence on both ends of the floor, the Comets used their defense to force a myriad of turnovers by the Scots. And when Scotland managed to hang onto the ball, it was limited to several one-shot possessions.
Meanwhile, the Comets used their transition game to race the ball up the floor, attacking the paint with gusto.
And if the lane was clogged, the Comets whipped passes out on the wings to Murphy, who was consistently accurate from the perimeter and along the baseline.
Murphy also enjoyed solid night at the line, knocking down 7-of-12 free throws, including 5-of-6 in the final period as Scotland vainly tried to rally.
“Tasha could easily have had 40 points if her free throws all went down, as well as a couple more shots from the floor that rimmed out,” Lee said.
The coach pointed out that while Murphy was on fire, it was a team effort that produced the win. “We played great defense,” Lee said, “And we played with confidence – that was the key.”
Scotland made a few runs at the Comets, closing within three points on three occasions in the second half and at the outset of the third period, when a follow shot by Quintavia Deberry made it 25-22
But consecutive 3-pointers by Murphy built the lead back to seven points, then a bucket from Ashley Murphy, four points from the line by Tajah Clark and another 3 from Murphy produced a back-breaking run that gave Clayton a 48-34 lead entering the final period.
Clark finished with 13 points to complement Tasha Murphy’s effort, while Scotland, which saw its season end with a 22-4 mark, got 14 points from Jonisha Murphy.