The last time the R-S Central and East Rutherford boy's basketball teams locked horns it was high-scoring affair that the Cavaliers (12-4, 5-1 SMAC) eventually claimed with an 81-76 victory. Tonight the Hilltoppers are looking to be on top at the final buzzer when they host their cross-county rival.
Central (10-8, 3-3 SMAC) has shown flashes of throughout the season to suggest that they're one of the top teams in the conference but have yet to stake their claim.
"Seven of our eight loses come to teams that are ranked in the state or honorable mention. We need to get to the next level and beat one of those teams," said Central head coach Greg Wright. "East Rutherford is one of the best teams around. A win would give our kids a world of confidence."
Jay Blanton led the Hilltopper attack during the first meeting with 28 points anchored by eight 3-pointers.
"For us that's part of our game-plan," Wright said. "We've got to get open looks and knock down 3-point shots. But we can't just rely on the 3-point line. We've really worked on our screening. We really need to set screens in order to get open space on the floor and make shots."
East head coach Brad Levine hopes his Cavaliers limit Central's effectiveness from long range.
"We separated from him some," Levine said about Blanton's big game. "When you get good looks like that they're a lot easier to make. We're hopefully not going to let him have those easy looks."
Levine had very few good things to say about his team's performance back on Dec. 18 despite the win.
"I don't think we defended them very well. We didn't do anything well except for score," Levine said. "I think they'll be ready to play. We always get their best shot. But if we give them our best shot than I think we'll be okay."
For Central it comes down to protecting the basketball.
"We've worked all week just trying to really take care of the basketball," Wright said. "We went back and watched film and we turned the ball over at inappropriate times that led to some easy points for them."
As effective as the perimeter game was for each team in the previous meeting (each team made nine 3-pointers), it may come down to who plays larger in the paint.
"We still need to get the ball inside to Rashaun [Whitesides] and Jaylen [Hollis] and let them use their post moves to their advantage," Wright said. "We gave up way too many second chance points. Hopefully we can rebound the ball better."
This game represents pride for Central but East needs a win to stay in the conference race after falling to Shelby last week.
"We have a little incentive now that we're one down (in confernce play)," Levine said. "If we don't play good tomorrow night than a conference championship may just be a dream."
One thing is for sure come 7:30 p.m. at The Palace, the place will be electric.
"It's a little more emotionally energized," Levine said. "These boys know each other so it's a little like a backyard game. No matter the differences in the teams, it's always been a game that people come out and watch."
If each team puts up the points they did in the first meeting than tonight will be nothing short of entertaining, but Levine doesn't see a repeat performance for either team.
"If they play as well as they did last time than anything could happen. We know their team better by now, I know my team better and the better ball teams play better games in the second half of the season," Levine said. "I'm not as worried about R-S as much as I am East Rutherford. If we play well that's all I can ask. We aren't a team that gives up 75-plus points a game, that's not how we play. If that happens than it means R-S played one heck of a game."
Tipoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. in Rutherfordton.
Lady Cavaliers seek revenge
Before the boys take the court tonight they ladies from each school will battle for country supremacy as Central looks to sweep East and the Lady Cavaliers aim to even the season series after losing round one 61-52.
"I know they're going to come out strong with a desire to beat us," said Central head coach Darius Fuller. "But we will definitely match their intensity because we want to do the same to them."
Central will lean on their strong starting five but Fuller is more concerned about the big-3 of East Rutherford.
Rachel Camp is the obvious star for the Cavs but Shay Dewberry and Justina Greene are quietly powering the charge.
"We just want to know where their best players are at all times," said Fuller. "We can't sleep on Dewberry and Greene because they will hurt us."
To slow the Cavs attack the Hilltoppers must avoid foul trouble.
"We'll try our best to stop their penetration to the goal and their 3-point shot. We want to at least get a hand in their face," Fuller said. "If we play smart then some of our concerns will take care of themselves."
As far as the offense is concerned , Fuller is leaving his game-plan status quo.
"We're just going to play Lady Hilltopper basketball. We're still fighting to be a conference champion," Fuller said. "For me to change up too much would be crazy; we're having success."
After a dominating win over Chase on Tuesday night, East head coach Larry Ross has just one thing on his mind...revenge.
"Hopefully on Friday we can go up to R-S and get a little payback for them beating us the first time and get back into the conference race," Ross said.
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. in Rutherfordton.