CLAYTON — Junior Taisha Murphy scored a career-high 36 points Tuesday night, and Clayton needed every one of them to hold off a scrappy Cleveland squad 60-56 in overtime.
With the Comets up 57-56 in OT, Murphy made three free throws in the in the final 45 seconds to seal the nonconference victory for the Comets, who improved to 4-0.
“I told them this is what we needed,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “We are not going to go out every night and beat everybody 15 or 20 points. We are going to have some tough games. The ladies stepped up, and we came out of here with a win.
“Taisha is our go-to player. She can put the ball in the goal.”
Jenna Harris added 12 points for the Comets.
Cleveland, which fell to 0-4, was up by eight points at 28-20 midway through the second quarter, but Murphy sparked a 12-0 run that got the Comets back on top – hitting 3-pointers on three consecutive Clayton possessions.
Clayton had the ball with the score tied at the end of regulation, but Murphy missed a contested 3-pointer from corner to leave the score 56-56.
In the four-minute overtime, Cleveland could not come up with any offense, missing seven shots and making several turnovers.
Clayton went 4-for-8 from the free-throw line in the extra period. The Comets finished 28-for-47 at the line in a physical contest that saw four Cleveland players foul out.
“They were physical, and luckily enough, the referees called some fouls, and we did get to the line,” Lee said. “I told the players if we miss free throws, it’s just like a turnover.”
It’s a learning process for the Comets, Lee said. Even though it was a nonconference game against a 3A rival, the intensity of the game gave his team a taste of what like it will be like in the Greater Neuse 4A Conference, the Clayton coach said.
“Not having been in these game situations this much, I needed to get some of the young players I pulled up from the junior varsity acclimated,” Lee said. “I told them, ‘Welcome to the Greater Neuse. This is what it’s all about.’
“We’ve just got to build off of what happened tonight. We got a little bit of a lead, and they fought back. But when we went through some adversity, we didn’t panic.
“It was a great game. Hat’s off to Cleveland.”
Junior Alliyah Sands led Cleveland with with 13 points; Courtney McGregor added 10.
The Rams were coming off a loss to Panther Creek on Monday night but played their best game of the young season, coach Chris Danehower said.
“We have grown so much from a week ago,” Danehower said. “Yesterday was a hard-fought game (against Panther Creek). We made some mental errors and didn’t execute.
“Tonight, with no practice, they came together. For us to be in the game the whole game and get it to overtime and have some opportunities to win is a great testament to their hard work, dedication and their ability to listen and come together as a team.”
The Rams have only one senior on their roster, starting three juniors and a sophomore along with senior Courtney Morris.
“For us to be able to compete with a team like Clayton, that says a lot about this team,” Danehower said. “We have played a tough schedule on purpose. It will get us ready for our conference schedule. I think tonight was a huge step toward that.”