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GREENVILLE — This time Greene Central finished what it started.
The No. 9-seeded Rams defeated No. 2 Clinton 61-57 in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A boys basketball East Regional final Saturday evening in Minges Coliseum. Greene Central (26-6) will head to its first ever state title game Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill where West champion Marshville Forest Hills will be waiting.
The Rams were blown out by eventual state 2-A champion Jacksonville Northside in the regional final a year ago, but Greene Central coach Charles Harris said there was more of a calm the second time around.
“Last year, we were kind of excited just to be here, but all this week after Tuesday night (a 67-54 win at Farmville Central) we’ve gone through our regular routines,” Harris said. “These guys were relaxed, we came in and played (that way) and you see the result.”
Clinton (27-2) jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Greene Central changed the atmosphere. The Rams scored seven unanswered, with Rhaheem Edwards’ 3-pointer being the team’s first lead in the past two regional final matchups.
Clinton’s Xzavier Howard’s basket narrowed the deficit to one, but Greene Central started the second quarter on a 13-0 run, highlighted by 3-pointers from Edwards and Torrance Clark. Clinton shot 5 of 24 in the first half, with Greene Central’s Imajae Dodd blocking five shots. When Donte Johnson converted on a 3-point play, the Rams led 20-6 with 2:48 left in the half.
The Dark Horses scored the final seven points of the half to get within seven, but the Rams kept up despite a faster pace in the third. Despite shooting 50 percent in the quarter, Clinton needed a Dewan Lesesne basket as time expired to get within 39-33 after three.
Rhaheem Edwards’ 3-pointer to start the fourth, followed by a Dodd three-point play swung momentum back to Greene Central. The Rams stretched their advantage to 16 on a pair of DonQuez Davis free throws with 4:28 remaining and had a 61-48 lead with 30 seconds to play before a desperate Clinton rally fell short.
Now, the Rams are in historic territory after winning three road games — including an epic 42-41 victory at Kinston in a third-round showdown that was the fourth of the season between the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference co-champions — just to get to the regional championship.
“It means a lot (especially with) all the practices we out in over the summer and season,” Dodd said.
Davis shared similar sentiments.
“We knew it was going to be hard getting back here, but we put in the work as a family and got the win,” he said.
Clinton was held to its lowest point total of the season. The East Central Conference champion Dark Horses were held to 58 twice this season in consecutive games, once in a seven-point loss to Jacksonville Northside, now in the 3-A ranks, on Dec. 14 and then in a five-point win against 4-A Wake Forest a week later.
“Congratulations to Greene Central,” Clinton coach Randy Jordan said. “They played hard and did what they had to do to pull off the win. I told my guys win or lose I couldn’t be prouder of them; they’ve given me so much as a head coach that I could never repay.”
Johnson and Edwards scored 16 each for Greene Central with Dodd adding 12 and Davis contributing 11. For Clinton, Zion Autry scored 14, Howard had 13 and Kris Williams added 12.
GREENE CENTRAL (61)
Johnson 16, Edwards 16, Dodd 12, Davis 11, Clark 6.
Autry 14, Howard 13, Kr. Williams 12, Lesesne 8, Owen’s 3, Ka. Williams 3, Lawson 2, McIntyre 2.
Score by quarters:
Greene Central 7 13 19 22 — 61
Clinton 6 7 20 24 — 57