Southern Wayne forward Tyre West

Southern Wayne forward Tyre West (12) gets ready to shoot a free throw during Southern Wayne’s game against New Bern.

The times are changing for Southern Wayne boys’ basketball team as Friday’s 64-36 victory over New Bern provided yet another step in the right direction.

The Saints are now 7-7 on the season, and 1-1 in East Carolina 3A/4A Conference play. The program tallied just seven victories last season.

“It’s a great feeling to get that first conference win,” Southern Wayne head coach Dwight Smith said. “Last year we were struggling to get to seven wins, and this year we’ve almost surpassed what we did last year, and that’s a great feeling.”

New Bern managed to open the game on a 7-4 run, but coming out of a timeout the Saints took their play to another level. Southern Wayne clamped down defensively, and closed the first quarter on a 17-3 run.

“In the timeout we told them it looks like they were playing dead and we have to start to get some energy,” Smith said. “They started to get in our defensive sets and cause turnovers.

“That’s what we thrive on, turning the ball over. Once we cause turnovers the rim starts getting bigger.”

The Saints harnessed the momentum in the second quarter. Freshman Mikhail Pocknett scored six of his 10 points in the second quarter, and helped Southern Wayne push its lead to 34-20 by halftime.

Southern Wayne played with an insurmountable lead for the entire second half. The Saints’ lead never dipped below 9 points.

Defensively, the Saints were flying all over the court and clogging up New Bern’s passing lanes as the Bears committed more than 10 turnovers and only scored two points in the fourth quarter.

“We did a great job of playing defense and sharing the ball,” Smith said.

Jamari Leach led Southern Wayne with 18 points, while Jalen Thompson poured in 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Demetric Wright scored 10, and Deandre Wright scored five points.

Smith said his team still has work to do. But the veteran coach said his team is getting better every day, and looks forward to the rest of the season as the Saints reach the meat of their conference schedule.

“These guys are really working hard and buy into what we’re trying to do,” Smith said. “We just keep telling them the sky is the limit.”