DURHAM — Kendrick Hall knew what he was getting into this season, his first as coach of the Southern Spartans’ boys basketball team.
But Hall is a battler, and so was his Southern team on Tuesday night. The Spartans trailed most of the game but fought back with an 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter to pull off their first victory of the season, 50-47 over Greensboro Smith.
“When you come from a season like you had last year, 22-5, and you know it was going to be a challenge whenever you come in, you’re just grateful for any win you can get,” Hall said. “Whether it’s ugly, smells good, you’re just grateful for that.”
This one wasn’t exactly pretty, but Southern displayed some grit down the stretch. After missing 26 of their first 41 field goal attempts, the Spartans (1-3) knocked down four of the last five and sank 7 of 10 free throws to hold off the Golden Eagles (1-2).
Shameik Wilson drilled a long 3-pointer with five minutes remaining to start the run, then dished to Tran Cameron for a fast-break layup to tie the game at 41-41.
Isaiah Maurice, who had his shot swatted away by Smith’s Devonte Phillips, recovered the ball for another score to put Southern ahead for the first time since early in the second quarter.
Smith tied the game with a pair of free throws, but Maurice put the Spartans ahead for good with a free throw of his own. Wilson then hit two more crucial foul shots, one after Smith committed a lane violation on a miss, for a 46-43 edge with 1:36 remaining.
“I was proud of the guys for fighting to the end and finishing out,” Hall said. “They made some real big free throws, and we got a couple of defensive stops.”
Hall, who coached the Southern girls’ team in 2011-12, inherited a team where “virtually everybody” is new, “starting fresh” with a Southern team coached by Art Richmond a year ago.
“We have a new group of guys who have never played together,” Hall said. “Some of them have never played this amount of time in a basketball game. It’s really a learning process for the whole team. I’m up for the challenge, and I enjoy doing it.
“It gets a bit frustrating at times, but you keep on getting it. Nothing worth having is easy to get.”
Tuesday’s game hardly was easy for either team. Both squads pressed fullcourt virtually the entire game, and there were plenty of turnovers — 23 for Southern and 19 for Smith.
“They don’t know all the nuances of the defense yet, but they execute pretty good at times,” Hall said. “Tonight, they did that a lot. I try to use their strengths to their advantage. They’re getting better at pressing, and I won’t stop pressing until we get better at it.”
Amari Hamilton led the Spartans with 12 points as Southern had nine players score. Devonte Phillps had 12 for the Golden Eagles, with Kaleb Holt and J.T. Williams adding 11 each.
Southern 50, Smith 47
GREENSBORO SMITH — Devonte Phillips 12, Kaleb Holt 11, J.T. Williams 11, Cameron Woods 7, Lacey Gathings 5, Tristan Scurlock 1.
SOUTHERN — Amari Hamilton 12, Javon Riley 8, Shameik Wilson 6, Jerrick Richmond 6, Isaiah Moore 5, Marvin Tillman 5, Tyran Cameron 4, Ben Johnson 2, Vince Phillips 2.
Records—Greensboro Smith 1-2, Durham 1-3.