Basketball regular reason roundup

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It’s been another wildly unpredictable season for local teams. With buzzer-beaters, overtimes and upsets abound over the last couple of months, the conference standings have finally started to take shape heading into the last week of the season. Some local teams will have crucial games this week. Here’s a look at where our teams stand:

South Johnston

South’s boys have had one heck of a season. They started off hot, winning their first nine games before falling to a tough Rolesville team in overtime just before the New Year. They picked up right where they left off though, winning their next seven with strong defense and hot shooting. Junior big man C.J. Ray might be the best player around, averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, and JaQuain Smith and Jacob Thornton are as scary of a one-two combo from outside as you’ll find. The Trojans may have went cold when they travelled to East Wake, but a window opened up after the Warriors took a surprising loss to Clayton. With both teams tied for first in the Greater Neuse Conference, that makes tonight’s rematch at South the most important game of the season for the Trojans. To make the game even bigger, South is celebrating its senior night. A win would put the Trojans in sole possession of first place in the conference, but it wouldn’t guarantee them a regular season crown as they still have to travel to a tough Cleveland team, which they narrowly edged out 47-42 at home.

South’s girls may not be in pursuit of a conference championship, but the Lady Trojans have made great strides in Whitney Williams’ first year as head coach. After losing their first eight games, the Lady Trojans have picked up a pair of wins over Smithfield-Selma, and a hard-earned win over Cleveland in conference play in which sophomore Janay McDonald had a game-high 17 points. They’ll get another shot at the Rams this week to try and solidify a top-four finish heading into the conference tournament. More importantly though, they’ll focus on continuing to improve as 11 out of 15 members will be back next year.

Harnett Central

Both Central teams have had pretty strong runs in Tri-County Conference play, but the girls still control their own destiny going into the last week of the regular season. The Lady Trojans have looked solid all season long, giving teams fits with their tenacious “Mountaincat” defense, led up top by sophomore guard Brittany Mills and anchored by sophomore rim protector Syniah McMiller. They’ll be looking forward to tonight’s rivalry game at Triton after winning big at home earlier in the season. But even bigger for Central is Friday, when they’ll have the opportunity to avenge their lone conference loss against Union Pines. The Vikings won handily on their homecourt, but Chelsey Cabe’s squad will hope that they can get some senior night magic on their side. A pair of wins for Central would clinch at least a share of the regular season championship.

Central’s boys started off a bit slower than the girls, but Will Gage always said he didn’t want his team peaking in November. After starting off 4-6, the Trojans have won seven of their last 10, with the two conference losses coming to first-place Southern Lee. A lot of that is thanks to a step up in play by senior big man Chase Mullins (12.1 points, 8.8 rebounds per game) and junior guard Trevonne Williams (14.3 points per game over the last six). Central would need some help from either Union Pines or Western Harnett to have a shot at the crown, which isn’t out of the question considering the Cavaliers’ lone loss came to sixth-place Triton. Anyone can beat anyone in the Tri-County Conference this season, so Central won’t be taking Triton or Union Pines for granted this week. A pair of wins guarantees them a top-two finish heading into the conference tournament.

Triton

No one understands the frustration of losing close games better than T.J. Morrison after this season. The Hawks’ record may suggest they aren’t a good team, but anyone who’s seen them knows that isn’t true. South narrowly escaped from Erwin with an overtime victory after JaQuain Smith hit a clutch shot with seconds left in regulation to send the game into OT, and the Hawks fought hard in Four Oaks after losing Morrison from a couple of soft technicals. Triton has hung tough with Patriot 3A/4A teams like Overhills and Pine Forest, and they’re the only Tri-County team to knock off Southern Lee. Senior forward Derreon Burnett had a career-high 27 points and 14 rebounds in a big win over Wake Forest earlier this season. But the Hawks have struggled in close games, especially in conference play. Of their six conference losses, five of them have been by one or two possessions. Wins have been hard to come by, but Triton has the opportunity to play spoiler and get revenge against county rival Central tonight. And the Hawks will have a good chance for a win when they host fifth-place Lee County on Friday.

Triton’s girls have also taken some tough losses this season. The Lady Hawks hung tough at home against a strong Midway team earlier in the season. They jumped out to a big lead early against Western Harnett on Friday but fell behind after a rough second quarter. They’ll look for revenge in back-to-back games this week, starting off with a tough Central team tonight. Friday’s senior night against Lee County will also be a good opportunity for seniors Anaya Lockamy, Hannah Jackson and Alexis Howard to get one last home win, as they lost a tough one in overtime on the Yellow Jackets’ home court.

Midway

The Lady Raiders got off to a stronger start than any other Record team, rattling off 11 wins to start the year. But they’ve found themselves going up against a pair of juggernauts in the East Central Conference in East Duplin and Clinton. Midway struggled in both games with East Duplin, but they played well against Clinton and nearly came away with a pair of impressive wins. Outside of those four games, the Raiders have looked pretty dominant this season. They’re led by seniors J.J. Sankey and Alyssa Wrench, who set the tone not only offensively with 14.4 and 12.8 points per game respectively, but defensively as well. HighSchoolOT projects that Midway should get into the state playoffs due to its undefeated non-conference record.

For the Midway boys, it’s been quite a bit more of a struggle. The Raiders have struggled with depth issues all season long, and that hasn’t gotten any better as the season has gone on. And with the only game left against first-place Goldsboro, a win on senior night seems unlikely. But the Raiders did pick up their first conference win of the season last week against East Duplin on what was a very special night. Midway fans came together in an effort to raise awareness for breast cancer and paid special tribute to Mrs. Betty Joyce Autry. It was definitely a much-needed feel-good moment for Bryson Core, Carsse Lucas and Dalton Cannady, three of the Raiders’ senior leaders.

Western Harnett

It’s been an up-and-down year for both Western Harnett teams this season. The girls made a splash in the opening game of the Harnett County Tipoff when senior guard Lahaina “LaLa” Bell scored 33 points against Triton. But the Lady Eagles have struggled for consistency this season. Bell went through a stretch where she wasn’t shooting as well, like in the road loss to the Hawks. But she bounced back in Friday’s rubber match with 32. Western will hope that Bell can stay hot. When she plays well, they have a chance to beat just about anybody. Wins over Lee County and Southern Lee would help them secure a third-place finish in the regular season.

The boys have also shown flashes of potential this season. The Eagles have two of the most electrifying players in the area with speedy point guard Tre’ Richardson and high-flying center Tobias Dillard. They’ve played tough against some top-notch teams, and there’s no doubt they’ll have the crowd rocking when first-place Southern Lee comes to town Friday for Senior Night. The Eagles could potentially play spoiler if they upset the Cavaliers and open up a window for county rival Central to clinch at least a share of the regular season crown.

Overhills

Both Jaguars teams have found themselves in the middle of one of the toughest conferences in the entire state. The Lady Jaguars lost starting point guard Iyonnah Council midway through the season but have still turned out a pretty solid record in Brittany Kiley’s first year as head coach. They’ll look to secure a fourth-place finish with a win over South View on senior night tonight, then they’ll go up against a top-three conference opponent in Pine Forest. The Lady Jaguars are currently projected to make it into the state playoffs as the 21st overall seed.

Going into the season, Tony Lewis was worried about his team’s inexperience. The only players returning from last season were sophomore Cinque Lemon and senior Jaylen Moore. But his team has stepped up and played some solid basketball this season. The Jaguars are on the outside looking in according to HighSchoolOT, but with the way they’ve battled all season, it’s not out of the question that they could close the regular season with a pair of wins and make some noise in the conference tournament.

Hobbton

It’s been a season to forget for Wildcats fans. Hobbton’s basketball teams have combined for just one win: a high-scoring thriller for the boys over Neuse Charter in which sophomore Jaelyn Holliday posted a season-best 27 points. The boys face a tough opponent in North Duplin tonight, but will have a good chance for a win over Lakewood on Thursday to get out of the cellar in the Carolina Conference standings.

The girls may be winless this season, but they have a chance to change that tonight against North Duplin. After being shut out in the first quarter, the Lady Wildcats clawed back into the home game against the Rebels and lost a close one 26-22. They’ll hope to get revenge tonight and celebrate their first win of the season going into senior night Thursday.

Cape Fear Christian Academy

The regular season is over for Cape Fear Christian Academy, and now it’s playoff time. The girls will be on the road, playing at No. 6 seed Kerr-Vance Academy tonight. The Lady Eagles are an incredibly young team with two juniors, a sophomore, five freshmen and three middle-schoolers, so they’ll be relishing the playoff experience. Freshman point guard Leah Brannon has led CFCA all season and will look to have a big night in her first playoff game.

Even though the boys finished last in the conference, they still qualified for the playoffs and even earned a first-round bye, which is a testament to the strength of the conference. The Eagles are led by senior combo guard E.J. Bethea, who’s currently averaging 16.4 points per game. The boys sit as the No. 7 seed will host the winner of the Albemarle School (13-9) and John Paul II Catholic High School (7-14).

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