CLAYTON — During a late fourth quarter timeout, Clayton boys basketball coach Denny Medlin was talking about more than just protecting the Comets’ five-point lead.
He was telling his team about winning a championship.
Aided by a stellar night from the free throw line, Clayton staved off a pesky Southeast Raleigh team 64-54 Friday to keep its stranglehold atop the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference. For Medlin and the Comets, Friday’s game was just another piece of a bigger puzzle.
“We talk about how every game is for the conference championship,” Medlin said. “I wanted to remind them that it’s not okay to let this one slip through. We had the lead and there wasn’t much time left so I just wanted to remind them that it’s not okay to let it go.”
What Worked: There’s one statistic that jumps off the page from this game: Clayton shot 33-for-38 from the free throw line. Southeast Raleigh? Just 1-for-1. By the time the Bulldogs (9-6, 3-4) shot their first and only foul shot of the game – with 4:48 left in the fourth quarter -- the Comets had already hoisted up 22 of their own.
“Southeast is a very physical team and I thought we were really disciplined,” Medlin said. “We got the kind of shots that we wanted in the paint; we weren’t settling for jumpers. We were pretty successful keeping the ball out of the paint defensively whereas on the other end we were trying to get the ball as deep as we can.”
Not only was Clayton getting to the free throw line, the Comets were taking advantage once there. Clayton made its first 19 foul shots of the game and Gary Clark led the effort by sinking 18 of his 20.
“We’ve got such a good shooting team that there’s no reason we shouldn’t be a good free throw shooting team. It’s something we emphasize more,” Medlin said. “There’s been games where we’ve shot it well but then we didn’t shoot free throws well in our losses.”
Turning Point: Clayton watched a 12-point halftime lead all but evaporate in the third quarter and with 1:07 remaining in the game the Comets led just 57-54. But Clayton closed things out at the foul line – where else – by making five of six bonus free throws in the final minute.
Putting Up Numbers: Clark scored 32 points to lead all scorers, while the Bulldogs’ Demetrius Sanders accounted for 26 points. Tre Armstead added nine points for Clayton.
Feeling The Impact: Clayton improved to 14-3 overall including a perfect 7-0 in Greater Neuse River 4A play at the halfway point of the conference schedule. Knightdale sits in second place in the division at 6-1 with their lone loss coming at the hands of the Comets. The teams square off for the second and final time on Jan. 28.
“It’s a great conference win. Great crowd, great atmosphere. Great conference game,” Medlin said. “We’re only halfway through and there’s a lot of basketball to be played yet. Every game is for the championship.”