OCEAN — Croatan snapped a significant losing streak Tuesday with a 74-54 victory over Southside.
The boys basketball program hadn’t won a season opener since the 2012-2013 season. Fourth-year coach Jeff Hawkins has come close every year in game-one matchups with Swansboro. The Cougars fell 56-55 in overtime in 2016-2017, lost 50-46 in 2017-2018 and fell 57-51 in overtime last season.
The win over the Seahawks was Croatan’s best effort by far in a season opener. The Cougars held a double-digit lead after one quarter and went into halftime up 36-16. The teams tied 38-38 in the second half, but the damage was done for the visitors.
“I thought we did a good job,” Croatan coach Jeff Hawkins said. “The effort was there. It’s a high-energy group, which is fun. Typically, your first games are sloppy. This one was a little typical, but I can’t complain about our effort.”
Croatan was clicking on all cylinders from the start, scoring nine of the game’s first 11 buckets in the opening quarter. Five different scorers got in on the action, led by seven points from Aaron Keel, four from Owen Bellamy, three from Dustin Hayden and two apiece from Major Hawkins and Ryan Bellamy.
The Cougars turned up the heat again in the second with a scoring run of eight in the beginning to give them a 28-9 lead. Hayden carried the run with nine of his team’s first 11 points in the period. The junior sank two field goals, a three-pointer and went 2-for-2 at the foul line. He finished the game with a game-high 23 points.
“He is athletic and heady and team-oriented,” Hawkins said. “I thought it was a good team effort. A lot of people came in and contributed.”
Southside racked up fouls early, pushing Croatan to the charity stripe late in the second quarter. The Cougars responded by shooting 6-of-9 there. They finished 18-of-30 on the night. Hayden was the top free-throw shooter at 8-of-9.
The Seahawks’ best stretch of the night was a 12-5 run in the third quarter. The run came during a slow stretch for Croatan’s offense, where five of seven points over a period of just over four minutes came from the free-throw line.
“We still have to do a better job executing, because we did not execute the offense we wanted to tonight,” Hawkins said. “But your defense is always ahead of your offense this time of year. It’s a new offense that we’re still getting used to. We saw glimpses of it at the end, which resulted in a lot of easy baskets. Ultimately, we were unselfish tonight. We don’t care who scores, as long as we score.”
Croatan’s lead never shrunk below 17 points after halftime. The Seahawks came close to getting the deficit below that number late in the third quarter, before Chase Davis went the other way on a turnover for a layup and Hayden went one-on-three against a trio of defenders to convert a layup and put his team up 56-35.
The Cougars took care of business without junior Andrew Mendolia, a player Hawkins predicted would be a high-scoring option in the preseason. Mendolia has been dealing with a thumb injury since July, but played through it during football season as a starter on defense.
“We’re hoping he’ll be cleared next week,” Hawkins noted.
After Hayden’s 23, the leading scorers for Croatan were Keel with 10, Ryan Bellamy with nine, Davis with eight and Owen Bellamy with seven.
Hawkins scored six, Hayden Crow and Eric Nutz scored four apiece, D.Q. Dillahunt added two points and Jack Riley, one.
Ty Smith led the Seahawks in scoring with 15, followed by nine apiece from Zach Green and Nehamiah Worsley. Southside shot 14-of-26 from the foul line, where Smith shot 6-of-10 and Kaleb Taylor 4-of-5.
Croatan will host West Carteret (3-1) on Tuesday.