RALEIGH — Junior center Gary Clark and senior guard Anthony Gaskins have been Clayton’s one-two punch all season.
Clark, a 6-foot-7 center who is being recruited by numerous Division I schools including Clemson of the ACC, is usually in the lead role – averaging 24.9 points coming into Friday night’s Greater Neuse River 4A Conference basketball matchup at Southeast Raleigh.
This time, Gaskins took the lead, scoring a game-high 25 points and playing an excellent floor game as the Comets, ranked No. 3 in The News & Observer poll, used a strong second half to turn back Southeast 62-53.
Gaskins sat on the bench for much of the first half with two fouls and had seven points at intermission when the score was tied at 24. But he took off in the second half, scoring 18 points and running the show for the Comets (17-2, 8-1 Greater Neuse River).
“That hurt us,” Southeast Raleigh coach John Baker III said of Gaskins’ big half. “If you shut Gary down, you look up and Gaskins gets in a groove. I give them the ultimate respect. Those two played a heck of a game.”
Not that Clark was a non-factor. The athletic big man scored 21 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.
“They were real physical with Gary,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “Southeast is very good defensively.
“I felt like we needed to be more intense with the ball on offense. I thought we moved better in the second half with the basketball. It was more a matter of turning the ball over in the first half because of a lack of intensity with the ball.”
Gaskins was the igniter, pushing the ball up the court and splitting the Southeast defense. Once he got into the lane, he went strong to the basket or found an open teammate.
“It was a big game for me,” Gaskins said. “I know Southeast Raleigh has good pressure (defense). I was just trying to beat the pressure and dish it off or make a layup.
“When I have the ball, I want to get it as close as I can to the rim. If the defense collapses, I can dish it off. “
Clark played on the perimeter more than usual. The Bulldogs (9-6, 7-3) did a good job of keeping him away from the basket in the first half. But in the second half, Clark got the ball outside and drove to the basket several times for buckets.
“We were having a hard time getting Gary the ball inside,” Medlin said. “So we put Demage Bailey in for the third quarter and pulled Gary outside and he was able to get his hands on the ball. He’s got some perimeter skills. He’ll be a perimeter player in college.”
With the score knotted at 24-24 at halftime, Clayton opened the third quarter with a 12-5 run. Gaskins started the run with a 3-pointer and finished it with a driving basket. Clark, meanwhile, scored on consecutive possessions inside as the Comets took a 36-29 lead.
Southeast, which got 17 points from Tavis Purdie and 12 from Kwamaine Fairley, trailed by 10 points at the end of the third period.
The Bulldogs pulled within five points with 1:49 left at 54-49, but Clark scored on a spinning drive to the basket and added three free throws in the final minute to seal the victory for Clayton, which is in second place in the conference.
“It was huge because if we had lost we would have been a tie with Southeast instead of two games up on them,” Medlin said. “We didn’t take this game for granted. We knew it would be a tight battle. We feel very relieved.”