SMITHFIELD — Smithfield-Selma’s boys basketball team didn’t take its first lead in Friday’s conference opener against Cleveland until early in the final quarter.
Once the Spartans got on top, they weren’t about to let the game slip away. Getting key baskets down the stretch and making just enough free throws, Smithfield-Selma held off Cleveland 55-53 in an intense battle to start off their Two Rivers 3A Conference schedule.
“I thought we were very resilient,” Smithfield-Selma coach James Robinson said. “We talked about it throughout the game. When we fell behind, I told them just to take it bucket by bucket, win the next two possessions and not to pay attention to the scoreboard. I thought we did a good job of getting out in transition in the fourth quarter because we got out and ran.
“Defensively, I thought we contested and competed and held our own on the boards. We’ve still got some work to do, but we got a ‘W.’ ”
Down 27-22 at halftime and 38-34 after three periods, Smithfield-Selma clawed its way into the lead with a 7-2 run to begin the fourth period – getting a pair of baskets from Zay Best and a 3-pointer from Raequan Smith that made it 41-40 with 6:42 left in the game, Smithfield-Selma’s first lead.
A bucket by Cleveland’s Bobby Stenborg, who scored a game-high 28 points, gave the Rams their last lead of the game at 44-43 with 4:20 left.
A fast-break dunk by Quantez Leach started a 5-0 spurt by Smithfield-Selma that put the Spartans up 48-44 with 2:48 left. The Spartans led 54-49 with a minute left after Tony Hobbs scored on a putback, but there was still plenty of drama left.
Stenborg scored inside for Cleveland with 45 seconds left and, after a Spartans turnover, hit a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to pull Cleveland within 54-53.
Cleveland nearly stole the ensuing inbounds pass, but the Rams’ Chase Jackson was tied up for a jump ball after deflecting the pass and diving to the court to grab it. The possession arrow was pointing in the Spartans’ direction, and they made a free throw with four seconds left for the final margin.
“I told them to hold their head up,” Cleveland coach John Jacobs said. “A couple of balls here or there, that jump ball. That’s just the way the ball bounces sometimes. They gave great effort. It was just one of those nights.”
For Smithfield-Selma, which improved to 4-8 after a tough nonconference schedule, the hard-fought win in the conference opener was partly due to the lumps they took early.
“Our nonconference schedule is as hard as anybody’s,” Robinson said. “I’ve been telling everybody, be patient, we just want to worry about us. Our real season started tonight. I thought we learned a lot from those early games. We bowed our back when we had to tonight.”
Smithfield-Selma was led by Smith, a sophomore guard, with 15 points. Best had 13 points and Hobbs, a 6-foot-5 senior, had 11 points and grabbed several big offensive rebounds for the Spartans.
“Backside rebounding hurt us at the beginning,” Robinson said. “All week I was talking about rebounding, rebounding. I thought offensive boards really helped us late in the game.”
Robinson liked the fact that his scoring was spread around. In addition to the three double-figure scorers, Leach and Jeffrey David had six each.
Cleveland (5-5, 0-1 Two Rivers) battled hard in the intense game that is the expected to become the norm between the new rivals.
“It’s always a battle when you come over here,” Jacobs said. “They just made a few more plays than we did.
“We decided not to play defense for about three or four minutes (in the final period). They got some easy shots and got a little run going and we took some bad shots. That’s what happens when you do that.”
Clevleand has a team that is predominately made up of underclassmen, with just three seniors on its roster. Stenborg, a junior, is a mobile 6-foot-3 player who can score outside and drive to the basket. Jacobs sees his Rams as a group that will get better as the season progresses.
“We’re still pretty young,” Jacobs said. “I think we have a chance to keep getting better. If they keep working hard, I think we can do some good things as the year goes along.”