SMITHFIELD — The Clayton girls basketball team remained undefeated Friday night after defeating Smithfield-Selma on the road but the 52-45 triumph was a far cry from the 35-point drubbing the Comets laid upon the Spartans in the first outing.
Taisha Murphy hit 11 of 12 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter and accounted for 35 points to help Clayton hold off a Smithfield-Selma team that looks to be finding its way.
“I expected this,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said of the tight contest. “I told the young ladies that we were not going to come down here and win by 20 or 30 points. We needed to grind it out.”
Turning point: After controlling play in the first quarter, Smithfield-Selma entered the second quarter up by five points but found itself down five by the end of the quarter.
Murphy scored five points in the first minute of the second period to tie the game up and helped give the Comets the lead, one they would never relinquish, heading into the second half.
After Jenna Harris made a 3-pointer, Murphy found Amber Caudle and Taylor Williams alone under the basket for a pair of easy baskets on back-to-back Clayton possessions late in the second quarter.
What worked: For the Comets, it was Taisha Murphy. The junior guard’s ability to get into the lane not only led to points but it also led to a huge discrepancy in free throws attempted. The Comets (6-0) went to the foul line 39 times while the Spartans managed to get to the charity stripe for only six attempts
Murphy was 15-of-19 from the foul line alone for the game.
For Smithfield-Selma and coach Williams Sanders, the Spartans’ starting five and substitutions, for that matter worked.
Smithfield-Selma is still looking for its first win on the season but a one-point loss to Leesville Road in the previous game and the dramatic drop in the margin of defeat to the Comets from the first encounter show improvement that can be linked to a new lineup.
Diamond Blackston, Mariah Godwin, Dannya Tavarez, Parker Watson and Dazmine Young accounted for all of the Spartan offense and went toe-to-toe with the undefeated Comets for the entire game.
“I was searching for a starting five; I think I found it,” Sanders said. “The confidence is getting there. They are beginning to trust each other more and I’m trusting them more.”
Tavarez led Smithfield-Selma with 16 points; Young added 14 and Blackston totaled 10 points and four assists.
What didn’t work: For the Spartans, who did connect on eight three-point attempts for the evening, their reliance on their perimeter game hurt in the second and third quarters as their shots proved to be off target more than not, aiding the Comets in gaining and maintaining the lead.
A slow start to the game saw an undefeated Clayton squad fall behind early.
The Comets missed eight of their 11 free throws in the first quarter and their mid-range game resulted in only one field goal that wasn’t from behind the arc.
Unsung hero: The Spartans’ Mariah Godwin, freshman starting center scored five points in the loss but made her presence felt on the glass. Godwin dominated inside the paint and collected 16 rebounds on the night.
Out of bounds: Smithfield-Selma coach William Sanders may need to petition the NCHSAA to extend the boundaries of the coach’s box as Sanders, on two different occasions, needed to scream several times before being awarded a timeout for which he had to earn by straining his voice.
Later as Sanders approached the head official, it was explained that it was tough to discern the coach’s pleas from the typical yelling that the officials encounter over the course of the game.
Homecoming present: Lee celebrated his 40th birthday with the win.
“Today is my birthday and I’m at home,” said Lee, a 1992 graduate of Smithfield-Selma, smiling. “It’s always good to be back home in Smithfield in front of my friends, family.”