Triton’s boys basketball team struggled to find consistency in Wednesday’s game at West Johnston, but a dominant second quarter was enough to seal the 73-63 victory.
“I thought we played really well in that second quarter,” said Triton boys coach T.J. Morrison. “Played about as well as we can defensively. But we’ve got to maintain that effort over four quarters. We gave up way too many easy looks tonight on defense, turned it over too much on offense. We’ve been playing alright and we’ve won three games in a row, but we’ve got to keep getting better if we want to make a good run in the conference.”
Senior center Josiah Lett had 18 points, six rebounds and five blocks to lead Triton. Senior guard Travion Sanders had 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and junior guard Dalen Thompson added 12.
Several Hawks finished just shy of double figures. Myshon Smith had an efficient 9 points on just five field goal attempts. LaDrabious Eason had 8 points to pair with seven rebounds. Keionta Burnett had 8 points on just four field goal attempts. Also chipping in were Jalen Evans and Jaden Geddie with 2 points apiece.
“There are a couple of ways you could look at it,” Morrison said of his team’s regularly balanced scoring numbers. “You could say we’re a really balanced team, or you could say that no one really stands out. I like that everyone is coming in and contributing and I think at times we do a good job of playing unselfishly. But I’d also like to know that there’s one guy I can count on to step up and get 15-plus for me every night.”
Lett may be a strong candidate to do just that. The senior big man has shown the ability to dominate games like he did against West Johnston, but has struggled to make an impact in others. In games where he’s failed to reach double figures, the Hawks are 1-5. In games where he’s scored 10-plus, the Hawks are 6-1.
Another candidate to step up might be Sanders, who had an up-and-down start to his senior campaign but has had a couple of big games in a row. He scored a team-high 17 in Triton’s win over Lee County last Friday, scoring 13 in the fourth quarter comeback. And after scoring just 2 points in the first half of Wednesday’s win over West Johnston, he notched 12 in the second half to help the Hawks preserve the win.
Wherever the offensive production comes from, it doesn’t matter if Triton doesn’t play good defense.
“When we defend well as a team and everyone’s putting in effort, we look like a good team,” Morrison said. “When we don’t defend well, guys are turning the ball over and the effort isn’t completely there, we look like a beatable team.”
Triton looked beatable in the first quarter. Despite moving the ball well to get some easy looks, the Hawks turned it over several times and gave up too many easy looks to the Wildcats, falling behind 17-14 on a buzzer-beating layup to end the opening period.
But Triton turned it on in the second quarter, opening up the period on a 9-0 run thanks to three Thompson run-out layups and a Burnett 3-pointer. The Hawks carried that momentum the rest of the quarter, outscoring West Johnston 20-4 to take a 34-21 lead at halftime.
It was a dominant performance, and it looked like Triton was ready to run away with the game. But instead, the Wildcats hung around, outscoring the Hawks 23-18 to make it an 8-point game at 52-44 heading into the fourth quarter.
West Johnston kept coming, eventually making it a one-possession game at 60-57 with 2:47 to play.
That’s when Smith, the senior defensive stopper, came up with a clutch steal after a pair of missed free throws and dished it off to Lett for an easy lay in. After one made Wildcat free throw, a Sanders bucket and Smith 3-pointer gave the Hawks breathing room at 67-58 with about a minute remaining. From that point on, Triton made 6-of-7 free throws to preserve the win.
Next up for the Hawks (8-6, 1-0) is a trip to defending Tri-County Conference champion Southern Lee (5-8, 1-0). The Cavaliers have dominated the conference the last two seasons, with their only two losses coming at Triton. They struggled to start the year, losing five of their first six games. But they’ve shown some promising signs of late against stiff competition, advancing to the championship game of the Cumberland County Classic before falling to Terry Sanford.
“They’ve been the team to beat the last couple of years,” Morrison said. “Even if they had a slow start to the season, we’re expecting them to be a tough team and we’re going to have to play a lot better if we want to win.”