Gary Clark poured in a game-high 28 points with 18 rebounds and four blocked shots, leading Clayton to a 61-49 win over scrappy Wilmington Ashley in the second round of the boys’ 4A East playoffs Wednesday night.
By Mike Potter
CLAYTON -- CLAYTON – Gary Clark may have been slowed a little by a hyperextension of his left knee two nights earlier, but the stat sheet certainly didn’t show it.
All the 6-7 junior forward did was pour in a game-high 28 points with 18 rebounds and four blocked shots, leading Clayton to a 61-49 win over scrappy Wilmington Ashley in the second round of the boys’ 4A East playoffs Wednesday night.
The Comets (27-2), champions of the Greater Neuse River conference and the top seed in the East, advanced to a third-round home game Friday night against No. 4 seed Wilmington Hoggard (18-8). No. 9 Ashley, which was in the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in school history, finished 17-9.
“Nothing’s easy in the playoffs,” said Clayton coach Denny Medlin, whose team won two playoff games last season. “I really give a lot of credit to Dr. Rick Alioto, because we’ve got Juwan Bizzell with a muscle pull in his back, too, and he and Gary are really playing through some pain.
“We really gutted this one out. We didn’t shoot well, but we figured it out. We got to the rim and attacked their zone off the dribble when they were spreading it out, and that proved to be a difference. We just expect Gary to play great every night, so we’re never surprised by what he does. That’s why we’re here.”
Chris Dixon added 12 points and Anthony Gaskins 10 for Clayton, which has won 12 straight games.
Ashley got 18 points from junior forward Ridell Camidge, who fouled out with 4:15 left and the Comets up 48-40, and 11 from 6-8 senior center T.J. Williams who will play at Chattanooga next season.
“Our effort was good,” Ashley coach Bryn McSwain said. “But Clayton’s perimeter pressure was really good and they have great athleticism. We held (Clark) to 19 through three quarters.
“We just didn’t want to get down to a team with that much speed. They were able to milk the clock and take advantage of it at the end. We needed to play really, really good to beat them and we played good.”
Clayton took a quick 8-0 lead behind six points from Clark, but the Screaming Eagles countered with eight straight - the last five from Camidge – and trailed only 15-12 at the quarter.
The Comets were up 28-22 at halftime before the visitors made a run, taking the lead at 32-31 on a Camidge 3-pointer with 5:00 left in the third.
But Clayton took the lead for good on a three-point play from Clark that made it 36-34 with 3:08 left in the period. Gaskins added four of his points later in the quarter and the Comets were up 41-38 after three.
“I really wasn’t playing in much pain – I’m maybe about 90 percent,” Clark said. “We’ve had a couple of teams play really well against us. We definitely have targets on our backs, being the No. 1 team in the East.
“But we’ve stayed together when things got rough, and we got some big stops when we needed to tonight.”
Clark finished up with nine fourth quarter points, including a follow slam dunk with 2:07 left and a driving slam with 1:50 left that made it 53-42 and put the Screaming Eagles away.
“They were pretty tough, but like coach said, there’s just nothing easy in the playoffs,” Gaskins said. “I really didn’t think Gary was going to play that well, but he was great tonight.”