Coach MarQus Johnson’s philosophy in two years with the Cary Invasion, where he’s 22-4 overall, is to keep things simple.
So as the third quarter of Thursday’s Tobacco Road Basketball League semifinal against the visiting Wilmington Sea Dawgs neared its conclusion, and Cary finally got some separation, Johnson looked at the five players on the court and decided he wouldn’t substitute them unless absolutely necessary.
His decision paid off as the Invasion won 127-104 to advance to a league championship game for the second straight season.
Cary went on a 40-10 run to close out the game despite three starters – Matt Gwynne, Jonathan Moore and Chuck Ward – sitting on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. Mike Smith, Freddie Little and reserves Brock Young, Daniel Jackson and Anton Currie broke open a tied game with just two minutes left in the third quarter and never looked back.
“Sometimes you can over-coach. And that time, I just said ‘I’m going to ride with this team until they fall out,’ ” Johnson said. “It wasn’t the plan, that’s just how it fell today.”
With Smith, Little and Young at guard, the Invasion’s smaller lineup began to pressure Wilmington – which had just seven healthy players and dropped six after an in-game injury in the first half – and create turnovers.
And the Invasion couldn’t stop scoring. Young finished with 16 points and 11 assists, finding teammates in transition and knocking down a few long 3-pointers as well. Smith had 22 points, including a reverse windmill in the game’s final minute.
“They had their intensity and focus,” Johnson said. “They were paying attention to detail as far as defense and rebounding.”
Jackson, who has started most games for Cary this season but sat out the first half, finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. Currie, who hasn’t played much this season, went for a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.
The two forwards did a better job of blocking out Wilmington, which was tied with the Invasion at halftime, 58-58.
The Sea Dawgs’ Marsh Neely had 43 points to lead all scorers.
The PrimeTime Players (Fort Mill, S.C.) and Fayetteville Crossover played Friday night in the other TRBL semifinal. Cary was set to host Saturday’s championship if Fayetteville could upset the league’s regular-season champions.
Johnson said that Smith wouldn’t be available for the championship game due to a scheduling conflict. The former standout at Shaw University will be attending a tryout for the NBA’s Developmental League.
“That’s what I want. I want our guys to have the opportunity to go play at a higher level, since this is minor league basketball,” Johnson said. “I want them to continue their goals, continue their dreams.”