APEX — For the first half, the Apex boys’ basketball team played like the Apex of recent years – knocking down open 3-pointers, executing on offense with surgical precision and mixing in transition baskets. For the second, Millbrook looked like the same squad that has made two deep postseason runs in the last two seasons as the Wildcats created chaos with its high-pressure defense.
In the end, the lead the host Cougars created in the opening quarters was just enough to make sure the Wildcats’ rally fell short.
Apex won 62-55 Friday for its first win of the season.
As much as either side wanted to be happy with what it showed in its better half of play Friday night, there was another half that let it know it still needs to put together a complete game.
For instance, Apex (1-2) had 14 assists on 16 made baskets in the first half, but didn’t take care of the ball as well when Millbrook forced a combined seven steals in the third and fourth quarters. But what both teams could take pride in was their ability to battle through when things weren’t going their way.
“Tonight was really important for us, and I’m happy for the guys,” Apex coach David Neal said. “We looked great in the first half, we didn’t look very good in the second half... we were tough enough to pull it out.”
The first win of the year for Apex comes after it has opened the year with progressively improving results. A 26-point loss to Leesville Road was followed by an overtime loss to Sanderson leading into Friday’s win.
“We played to the best our abilities for once. We’ve struggled a little bit, but so does any team,” said Apex junior point guard T.J. Wells.
Millbrook, which made it to last year’s 4A regionals after being 4A runner-up in 2011, returns two starters but has a different feel this year thanks to 6-foot-11 center Jake Wilson. The junior (and brother of UNC-Wilmington player Matt Wilson) gives the Wildcats a true post player.
In recent years, Millbrook (1-2) has lacked size but made up for it with quickness at all five positions.
“We still created a few problems for them defensively. It’s different from what we’ve done before. We don’t quite have the quickness we had,” Millbrook coach Scott McInnes said.
Wilson finished with a team-high 16 points (7-of-7 from the floor, 2-of-2 from the free throw line) and added four rebounds. Forward Andrew Ezebuiro, one of two returning starters for Millbrook, had a team-high eight boards.
In the first half, Millbrook made sure to deny any passes to Apex junior T.J. Evans, who averaged 20.8 points per game last year. The Cougars were ready for that, moving the ball well enough to hit five 3s in the first half and lead 40-21 going into intermission.
Freshman forward Ian Boyd finished with a team-high 16 points for the Cougars, and also had five rebounds and three assists.
“I’m surprised with how we came out in the first half,” McInnes said. “It’s just about the effort. We knew Apex could shoot... we just didn’t cover the shooters. That was our main focus coming in and we still didn’t do it.”
Millbrook, which never led after being up 4-3 in the first quarter, went on a 27-12 run from the third quarter halfway into the fourth. Apex’s lead was cut to three, 58-55 with less than 30 seconds to go in the game. Howevr, Apex hit all four of its final free throws to hold on.
“As the clock goes down, you start getting more and more anxious about the game and trying to get the win, especially because it’s our first one and against a good team in Millbrook,” said Wells, who had a game-high seven assists. “It was real hard, and you saw that, but we pulled it out in the end, and that’s all that matters.”
Chris Clemons, a sophomore, had 13 points for Millbrook and a team-high five assists. Apex had four players in double-figures, including Boyd, Evans (11 points), Scott Greeson (11) and Malik Williams (13), who also had a team-high seven rebounds.
The Cougars begin conference play next week in the Tri-9.