Goldsboro guard JaeQuan Graham

Goldsboro guard JaeQuan Graham dribbles the basketball while Clinton’s Dieon Venable defends. Graham finished the game with nine points.

In their fourth matchup against Clinton this season, the Cougars held off a late charge from Clinton and picked up a 69-59 win in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2-A boys’ basketball playoffs.

“I knew coming into this game it was going to be tough,” Goldsboro head coach Jamal Croom said. “They know what we can do, we know what they can do, and hats off to them because they really challenged us tonight.

“I want our guys to take this as a wake-up call because at this point in the season if you don’t bring it, it could be your last game.”

Goldsboro entertains Carrboro on Thursday night.

In took a little bit of time for the Cougars to find their groove. Clinton opened the game on a 13-0 run, and the Cougars didn’t score their first points until the 2:55 mark of the first quarter. Going down the stretch of the first quarter, Goldsboro outscored Clinton 10-4, and going into the second quarter the Cougars were down 17-11.

In the second quarter, Christian Bullock, JaeQuan Graham and Xavion Atkinson combined to hit five three-pointers. The Cougars took their first lead of the game, 28-25, with 48 seconds remaining in the second quarter and led 31-29 at halftime.

“We showed a lot of grit,” Croom said. “At halftime, I challenged the guys to show mental and physical toughness. We answered the call, and I’m pleased with how we fought back.”

In the second half, the Cougars (22-4 overall) leaned heavily on the interior presence of Isaiah Wilder and D.J. Harper. Wilder finished with a team-high 20 points, while Harper chipped in nine points.

Bullock had 17 points, and Xavion Atkinson scored 10 points.

Going into the fourth quarter, Goldsboro was up 48-44. With just over one minute remaining in the game, the Dark Horses (13-14) made the score 60-59, but the Cougars never lost their composure. Wilder, Atkinson, Graham and Bullock all converted clutch free throws, and the Cougars put away the Dark Horses.

“The free-throw line was our friend toward the end of the game. We did a good job shooting free throws,” Croom said. “I’m glad we got the win, and I’m very pleased with that.”