GARNER — Garner coach Eddie Gray preached it in practice during the week. Senior captain Demarcus Sanford did as well.
They broke out the football pads to try and simulate how physical things would be on both sides when rival Southeast Raleigh visited for Friday’s Greater Neuse River 4A Conference boys basketball clash.
“This game is always very physical,” Gray said. “These guys have never played in one of these games. You can’t duplicate it in practice; we tried.”
Through the opening 12 or so minutes of play it showed as Southeast dominated the boards and pulled out to a five-point lead.
However, the Trojans adjusted and found their scoring touch on secondary breaks, grabbing a 66-58 victory before a packed Garner gym and keeping their GNRC mark (5-0) perfect. Southeast fell to 5-2 in the league with the loss.
Garner claimed its first lead late in the second half behind the scoring of Sanford and Sammy Saunders. Sanford hit a jumper to even the score at 26, then added two free throws before a Saunders’ 3-pointer on a secondary break (off of a Julius Barnes’ assist) pushed Garner ahead 31-27 at the half.
“That’s very important to the way we play,” Sanford said of Garner’s quick-strike offense. “We have to score with our secondary, finding guys on the wings, getting open on the wings.”
The Bulldogs, who pulled down 17 offensive rebounds in the first half alone, had to work more and more for those second-chances in the second half.
“We tried to tell everybody before the game how it was going to be,” Sanford said. “We practiced with pads and that type of stuff, but until you get on the court, I guess, you can’t know what it’s really like.
“We started being stronger with the ball as the game progressed and we played a lot better.”
Garner did a better job of finding Southeast standout Justin Morris in the second half, cutting his scoring in half (eight points in the final two quarters as opposed to 15 in the first half).
The Trojans (11-2, 5-0) pushed their lead to 10 with 2:03 to play in the third quarter as Sanford started to find open looks. His 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left in the third quarter pushed the lead to 54-40.
Sanford finished with a game-high 28 points, which matched his career best.
“We knew Demarcus had to come up big and he knew it,” Gray said. “His scoring gets things going for us. We have to have him play that way in games like this.”
Saunders added 14 points for Garner.
“This is the first time a lot of these guys have played in an atmosphere like this, a full gym,” Gray said. “I’m proud of them, they kept their composure through all it if.”
Southeast (7-5 overall) did cut the lead to 56-51 with 4:46 to play on a three-point play by Kwamaine Fairley.
Fairley finished with 13 points.
The Bulldogs also had five open looks at 3-pointers that could have made things more interesting in the final two minutes but all five missed the mark.
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