RALEIGH — After earning three tough wins over Clayton this season, Southeast Raleigh girls’ basketball coach Nicole Meyers impressed on her team the importance of starting fast Friday night in the third round of the 4A playoffs as the Bulldogs faced the Comets for a fourth time.
Unbeaten Southeast jumped to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter and never looked back, defeatingClayton 63-38 to advance to the Eastern Regional for the fourth time in five years.
“We wanted to put the hammer down early and send a message,” Meyers said. “I don’t think we have done that consistently this season. I said today was a perfect day to do it, and they did it.”
Clayton (16-10) had lost to Southeast Raleigh (29-0) by 12, seven and six points in their first three meetings this season, including a 34-28 decision in the semifinals of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference tournament.
But the first eight minutes Friday were a nightmare for the Comets, who went 0-for-12 from the floor in the first quarter and did not make a field goal until Vanessa Pitts scored inside with 2 minutes, 17 seconds left in the second quarter to make the score 22-5.
“Anytime you spot anybody 21 points … ” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said, not needing to finish the sentence. “They were just clicking on all cylinders. I look at the last three quarters, and it was a four-point game.
“But hats off to them. They broke open the game the way they wanted to from the beginning. They wanted to get out and run. We were in the position we wanted to be, having played them three times tough. They are a great team. They are not undefeated for nothing.”
Sophomore Amber Richardson led Southeast Raleigh with 21 points. Richardson was on the receiving end of a lot of fast-break passes and also drove the lane against the Comets’ set defense for baskets.
“Coach always says run the floor and run wide so we can get easy fast-break points,” Richardson said. “Good thing my point (guard) looked up and passed it to the rim.”
Southeast heads to the Eastern Regional in Fayetteville where it will meet Fayetteville Seventy-First (28-0) in the semifinals. Unbeaten Millbrook (30-0) is also in the regional.
“We’re 29-0, and it’s crazy to say, but I still think we are under the radar,” Meyers said. “We’re like the other Raleigh team that is undefeated. But these girls believe in themselves, and the great thing about our team is that teams can try to shut down one player, but we have a lot of players that can step up and be leading scorers. I think that was demonstrated tonight.”
Southeast got 13 points from Alexus Hicks, who scored nine of her points in the third quarter on three 3-pointers, and 10 points from Amara Bell.
The Bulldogs play tenacious defense, and Meyers is optimistic that their defense will be a factor as Southeast Raleigh chases a state title. “I think they are the hardest team in North Carolina, and they are ready to prove something,” Meyers said.
Clayton, which starts three sophomores and two juniors, was seeded 12th in the sectional but went on the road to win playoff games at Lumberton and Scotland County before ending its season on Friday night.
Sophomores Taisha Murphy and Tajah Clark led the Comets with 10 points each against Southeast.
“I told my girls we are a pretty young team,” Lee said. “We got a little piece of the pie now. It’s all about working hard in the summer to get better. They built confidence in the playoffs on the road. They matured as a team. We’ll be back. Clayton girls’ basketball, we’re on the map.”