Apex bounces back from upset, injuries to blow by Holly Springs

Cougars still have chance at Tri-9 title

mblake@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2013 

— Injuries have been an ever-present part of the Apex boys’ basketball season, but the adjustments following each one has kept the Cougars near the top of the Tri-9 Conference.

When forward Gray Clayton went down with an ACL tear in the first game, Apex became more guard-driven. When shooting guard Jeff Valdini suffered a concussion a few weeks ago, the Cougars went big.

And when point guard T.J. Wells had a groin injury during an upset loss to Athens, T.J. Evans ran the point to perfection in a 87-69 rout of visiting Holly Springs on Tuesday.

“It definitely keeps us on our feet,” said Evans of losing almost one starter for each month of the season. “I think we’ve handled it well so far and I’m impressed with a lot of our teammates this year – (many of) them having little or no experience on the team and then just picking a role and doing it well.”

What worked: Apex (14-8, 11-3) hit eight of its first 11 3-pointers to put the game out of reach by halftime (Apex led 43-21).

It grew its lead to 71-37 at the end of three quarters and set a new season-best scoring output.

“I thought we were the hungrier team, and fortunately the shots were going down for us,” Apex coach David Neal said. “I told them something was wrong with them if they weren’t hungry after Friday night’s performance (a loss to then-last place Athens Drive) and the fact Holly Springs came over here and beat us at home last year.”

Needs improvement: Holly Springs (10-10, 6-7) got worked on the boards (Apex out-rebounded them 40-27 while using a zone) and didn’t create turnovers when it went to its usual trapping defense until it was too late. Then, the Golden Hawks scored 32 points in the fourth quarter.

Putting up numbers: Apex was one Ian Boyd rebound away from having three players with double-doubles.

Malik Williams was 4-of-4 from behind the arc and finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Boyd had 18 points and nine rebounds, and Jon Jones had 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Evans led all scorers (22 points), but also had five assists.

“It’s hard replacing T.J. Wells. But I think I handled it pretty well, and we as a team handled it pretty well,” Evans said. “It’s always fun watching my teammates get their buckets. Malik Williams had an awesome game tonight.”

Holly Springs’ Anthanee Doyle and D.J. Flippin each had 17 points, whle Craig McDaniel had 15.

Highlight reel: Flippin objected to something the Apex student section said to him after he commited foul in the fourth quarter. So on the next possession, he drove the lane and sent down a thunderous two-handed slam in traffic.

Going forward: Apex is closing in on locking up the league’s 2-seed, which will ensure at least one home playoff game, but Middle Creek’s loss to Green Hope Tuesday leaves the door open for a league title or co-title.

The Mustangs visit Apex in the regular season finale, and Valdini and Wells could both be back for the Cougars.

Holly Springs is still fighting for the fifth and final automatic playoff spot, only a half-game behind Panther Creek.

Blake: 919-460-2606 or Twitter: @JMBpreps

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