SMITHFIELD — Picked as the Bay Rivers District boys basketball favorite for the first time in the 25-year history of the league, Smithfield High got an immediate opportunity to prove it was worthy. The Packers did so on Wednesday with a 75-60 win over perennial contender Bruton that was, as Panthers coach Brenner Carter admitted, all-encompassing.
"Smithfield has multiple guys who can play different positions, and we're still trying to figure things out," Carter said. "Their post guys (J.R. Stafford and Chris Pierce) were stronger than ours, and their guards (Nick Turner, Kendell Shepherd and Ryan Jones) shot lights out.
"When you've got a point guard (Jones) and post player (Pierce) who can really play, then you have the other kid (Turner) hitting those 3's, you're going to win some games."
Jones (21 points) and Pierce (13 points) are givens, all-conference selections key to the Packers' 32 wins over the past two seasons. But the variety and quality from Turner (19 points, seven rebounds, four 3-pointers, three steals), Stafford (11 points, nine rebounds, four steals) and Shepherd (seven points, three steals) might be something other BRD teams weren't counting on.
They led the defensive effort as the Packers stole the ball 12 times, a ton against a Bruton team that so often protects it well. They also keyed the Packers 37-24 rebounding advantage.
"We just kept hustling, talking and communicating," Turner said. "And we kept up our intensity."
It didn't much matter that the athletic Pierce sat for a long stretch in the first half after getting his second foul with the game barely two minutes old. Turner, Shepherd and Stafford each had early steals, while the Packers defense forced Bruton into 2-of-9 shooting in taking a 16-8 lead after a quarter.
The Packers led 36-24 after a first half in which four of their players had made 3s. The Packers would go 9-of-21 from behind the arc.
"We just kept running to get open and swung the ball around to people," Turner said.
Jones concurred, adding, "We just moved the ball good and played as a team."
Turner's 3 in a five-point run to start the second half increased the lead to 41-24. Bruton battled back with an eight-point run to cut the deficit to 10 points, ignited by a layup and 3 from Danji Taylor (17 points). But the Panthers' most experienced players, Jalen Carr (14 points) and Daniel Jones, are just getting back to health from football injuries, and were not huge factors.
The Panthers got as close as seven points in the fourth quarter, but Turner extinguished the rally by hitting the first of his three fourth-quarter 3s. As Turner burned the nets, the Smithfield defense continued forcing turnovers (17 overall) to produce the 15-point final margin.
"I have to give the guys credit for focusing, and working on, defense," Smithfield coach Richard Pullen said. "The kids have bought into getting defensive stops, working on close-outs and defensive rotations. They take pride in that.
"We've played better in practices and scrimmages than we did tonight, but this was a great test for us. Bruton is always scrappy and fights to the end."
SMITHFIELD 75, BRUTON 60
BRUTON (0-1, 0-1): Taylor 17, Adkins 9, Jones 8, Carr 14, Calloway 6, Teach 4, Danek 2. Totals 21 14-23 60.
SMITHFIELD (1-0, 1-0): Shepherd 7, Turner 19, Bryant 2, Jones 21, Pierce 13, Stafford 11, Elliott 2. 25 16-24 75.
Bruton: 8, 16, 21, 15 – 60
Smithfield: 16, 20, 22, 17 – 75
3-pointers: Bruton 4 (Adkins 2, Taylor, Calloway), Smithfield 9 (Turner 4, Jones 2, Pierce, Shepherd, Stafford). JV: Smithfield won.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.