OCEAN — The Croatan boys basketball team had one slip away from it on Monday in its season opener against South Lenoir.
The Cougars led 40-36 in the fourth quarter before ultimately falling 48-46 in a matchup where head coach Will Sutton said the visitors “simply out-executed” the home team.
“They ran their offense that they had practiced, and they beat us,” he said. “We have a lot of young guys. We still have some growing to do. We saw a lot of things tonight that we still need to improve on, but we know they’re going to get better as the season goes.”
The game was a tight one from start to finish with nine lead changes. The Cougars tied the game 24-24 to end the first half and appeared to take control in the fourth quarter with buckets from Owen Bellamy and Brent Eilertson.
Then the Blue Devils scored seven straight to take a 43-40 lead they didn’t relinquish. Eilertson, who scored a game-high 20 points, twice cut the lead to one point, but the visitors held on to their lead with free throws from Jamarion Best and a putback from RayQuan Williams for a 48-44 South Lenoir lead.
Eilertson hit one more bucket for the final two-point score. The senior guard was the only Cougar to reach double scoring figures. Max Cardona scored nine points and Luke Green added eight.
“I thought Brent did a pretty good job,” Sutton said. “Luke did a great job, too. I thought everyone played hard until the end. The effort was definitely there.”
The win was a confidence boost for South Lenoir, which finished last season 1-8 overall.
“It’s big time to start off with a win,” head coach Paul Novicki said. “I don’t think we got our only win last year until the eighth game or so. It’s good for confidence to get it in early.”
South Lenoir’s leading scorers in the game were Cage Jones with 18 and Best with 14. The Blue Devils only dressed nine for the game, evident as shots stopped falling in the fourth quarter. The team finished 7-of-18 from the foul line, where they only shot 2-of-8 in the final period.
Croatan struggled to get to the foul line at all, shooting 2-of-5 there.
“It looked like we were intimidated to push the ball into the post,” Sutton said. “That’s another one of those things that will come with time. We just need to work on coming together as a team, and the rest will fall into place.”
Croatan, after traveling to Kinston on Tuesday, will visit East Duplin on Tuesday, Nov. 30. The Cougars won’t be home again until Dec. 8 when it hosts Pamlico County.
Here are results of the game:
South Lenoir............................ 17 7 12 12 - 48
Croatan................................... 12 12 12 10 - 46
SOUTH LENOIR (48) – Jones 18, Best 14, Williams 5, Dawson 4, Stroud 4, Smith 3.
CROATAN (46) – Eilertson 20, Cardona 9, Green 8, Graybill 3, Bellamy 2, McClain 2, Odom 2.