Eastern Regional Semifinals

Defense could be key in boys 4A basketball quarterfinals

cbest@newsobserver.comMarch 6, 2014 

Fifty-six is a key number for the teams playing in the 4A Eastern Regional boys semifinals on Friday night. The four teams – Apex, Clayton, Millbrook and Panther Creek – each allows between 54 and 55 points per game.

The teams are known for their offense, with Clayton’s Gary Clark dominating inside, Panther Creek breaking backboards and Millbrook averaging 78 points a game with plenty of dunks.

Clayton (23-4) faces Apex (20-7) at 7 p.m. and Millbrook (24-4) plays Panther Creek (22-5) at 8:30 p.m., at Fayetteville’s Crown Coliseum.

Panther Creek feeds off 6-foot-3 senior forward Nubian Spann and 6-foot senior guard Darrian Saddler.

“Nubian plays tremendously hard,” Hepp said. “His passion and drive to win really does spread throughout the team. This year, other guys have risen to approach his level and that’s made us a better team.”

Saddler is the guy Hepp “just can’t keep off of the court. He’s our best defensive player and does so much so well.”

Leading the list of issues the Catamounts must deal with when they meet Millbrook is a size disadvantage.

Millbrook starts 6-foot-11 senior Jake Wilson, 6-8 junior Robert Brown and has a half-dozen players taller than Panther Creek’s lone 6-6 player, senior center Gregg Storey.

“We’ll continue to make it about us and what we need to do,” Hepp said, “rather than worry about Millbrook’s size.”

Millbrook coach Scott McInnes, whose club has an average winning spread of 24 points, said his team is still improving.

“I really feel like we’ve got a special group of kids and coaches,” McInnes said. “They’ve got fantastic skills and they’re coachable and they’re getting better. The kids have been so focused.”

Apex is the only club to beat Clayton on its homecourt this season, claiming a 60-47 win on Dec. 9.

“The biggest thing is that we know how good they are from personal experience,” said Clayton coach Denny Medlin. “We know how they defend the wings, the help side and the middle. We can’t give up second shots – (Ian) Boyd is an exceptional rebounder – and their guards can shoot.”

The Cougars are led by a pair of talented T.J.’s – T.J. Evans (19.3 points per game) and T.J. Wells (8.3 ppg.) in the backcourt and the gritty inside play of Boyd (13.6 points, 6.5 rebounds).

“We know what kind of defense they play, but you have to keep in mind that (game) was a long time ago,” said Apex coach David Neal. “We know that night that Clayton was not on their ‘A’ game that night. I don’t think we were either. We just hit some 3s in the second half.”

Clayton’s Clark, a University of Cincinnati recruit, averages 24 points and 14 rebounds and carded a quadruple double earlier this season.

Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest

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