Harnett Central’s basketball teams used strong starts and strong finishes to come away with wins over West Johnston on Monday. The girls were finally able to pull away in the fourth quarter to win 55-40, while the boys closed on a 22-0 run to win 76-51.
Fighting through foul trouble
Early on, it seemed like Central was going to dominate the girls game, jumping out to an early 12-2 lead. But then, a couple of quick foul calls on Brittany Mills sent the junior point guard to the bench.
Mills’ departure sparked an 11-0 run for West Johnston, and even though Central still led most of the game, it became a much tighter affair than first-year head coach Catherine Griffin would have liked.
“Brittany got in foul trouble tonight and it hurt us,” Griffin said. “Brittany is our leader and it’s a different ballgame when she’s not on the floor. That forces Lya (Molyneaux) to move the point, it takes away a shooter on the wing and makes it easier for teams to double down on Syniah (McMiller) in the paint. So it was really tough at times to feed the ball into Syniah, but I’m still proud of the way the girls didn’t give up even when Brittany wasn’t in the game. We had to grind this one out tonight, and I thought we were able to fight through the adversity. Hopefully games like this will only help prepare us for if it happens again.”
Anytime West Johnston went on a run, it seemed like McMiller was the answer for Central. She scored 15 of her game-high 23 points in the opening half, shooting an effective 9-of-14 (64.3 percent) for the game. And she dominated the paint with 10 rebounds and eight blocks.
“It’s no secret that we want to get the ball down low to Syniah,” Griffin said. “Everyone in the gym knows it. Credit to West Johnston for doing all they could to take her away, but when she gets going it’s just hard to stop her.”
Central escaped the half with a 29-26 lead thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Molyneaux, who scored 10 in half and finished with a career-high 17 points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range. Griffin heaped praise on her junior shooting guard, who seems to be getting more and more comfortable each game.
West Johnston was able to cut into the lead again in the third quarter though, as Mills picked up her fourth foul early in the period, further hamstringing Central’s offensive flow. The Trojans clung to a 37-36 lead thanks to a late basket from McMiller.
Finally, with Mills back on the court, Central was able to gain separation in the fourth quarter. The Trojans opened up the period with a 6-0 run, getting baskets from each of the MMM’s (McMiller, Mills and Molyneaux). The trio combined for 15 of Central’s 18 points in the period, and the Trojans held West Johnston to just four points in the period to seal the win.
Running away with it
Central’s boys played a similar game, jumping out to an early 16-7 lead. But West Johnston was able to hang around for three quarters thanks to solid shooting and foul trouble for the Trojans’ back court.
Central took a narrow 30-25 lead at halftime and a 52-43 lead at the end of the third quarter. West Johnston opened up the fourth quarter with an 8-2 run, drawing within three points at 54-51. And then the avalanche came.
Central scored an eye-popping 22 unanswered points to close out the game, with most of them coming on easy buckets in transition.
Anthony Tomlinson, who missed Friday’s 71-55 win over Smithfield-Selma, led all scorers with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting (57.1 percent). He was a constant problem in the second half, scoring 10 points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth. As solid as he was on Monday, it was his lowest point total of the season (29 against Western Harnett, 27 against Overhills).
“I thought Ant did a really good job of playing smart,” said Central boys coach Will Gage. “He played the whole fourth quarter with four fouls, and he did a great job of defending without fouling, and was still able to get out and run. He’s been tremendous for us so far this season and I wasn’t sure how Friday’s game would go, but we had four guys finish in double figures. Tonight I think it was a good mix of him and other guys stepping up.”
One of those other guys stepping up for Central was Justin Perkins, who added 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting (63.6 percent) and 10 rebounds for his third double-double in four games this season.
“Perk has done a really good job for us on the boards,” Gage said of the senior big man. “And we’re going to need him to continue to do that if we’re going to be successful.”
Also scoring in double figures for the Trojans were Austin Swan and Croix Shipman with 11 points apiece.
Even Central’s bench continued the run in the final minutes. Ryder Carroll used a slick Euro-step to score two points. Xavier Harris knocked down a free throw. And Aiden Lopez converted an old-fashioned 3-point play for the exclamation point.
“Anytime you can get the whole team involved it helps you,” Gage said. “It keeps everyone motivated and playing hard, so I’m really happy we were able to get those guys some minutes.”
Jacob Hancock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-230-2040.