Tuesday marked the season openers for Harnett Central and Western Harnett, who met for a first-round matchup at the Bennie Pollock Memorial.
ANGIER — A one-point contest blew open in the second half of Tuesday's first-round boys basketball matchup between Harnett Central and visiting Western Harnett, as part of the Bennie Pollock Memorial tournament.
Central coach Will Gage credited his group's ability to get stops during that span, ultimately leading to a 70-34 rout and a championship game appearance Wednesday.
"I think they kind of bought into playing defense. ... and they did a good job of looking for teammates," Gage said following the season opener for both teams.
"They got a turnover, then they'd look ahead. And we converted better in the second half than we did in the first half."
Central (1-0) forward Xavier Bailey put in a game-high 12 points off the bench, most notably scoring two field goals apiece in both the second and third periods.
The Trojans' second-quarter lead grew to as high as six, but Western clawed back and got within one on a Josiah Smith 3-pointer that made it 22-21 at the break.
Seven McClain, Central's leading scorer from last season, poured in 10 third-quarter points to help widen the margin. His spurt included a pair of treys, one giving the Trojans their first double-digit lead, 34-23, then another minutes later that extended the margin to 42-26 with 2:42 to go.
Western (0-1) was held to just five points in the deciding frame, with three of them coming from Fred Belk, who ended with a team-leading eight for the game.
The victory gives Central a chance to claim a tipoff victory in front of its home crowd, but to do so, it will have to dethrone seven-time defending champ Overhills.
"We know that tomorrow night, it's a totally different team we're playing against, but we still got to have effort," Gage said.
"It's still gonna start at the defensive end of the floor. ... If they buy in and take pride in their defense, moving forward, we'll have a good chance."
Wednesday's title game will follow shortly after the girls' championship match, set to tip at 6:30 p.m.
Western plays Triton at 5 p.m. in the boys' consolation game.
Quez Jones added 11 points, while Nick Avery added seven for the Trojans in the victory.
Donnell Coley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910 230-2040.