The Clayton boys basketball team had a dream start to the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference championship game against Highway 70 rivals Garner, later erased an eight-point deficit and pushed the Trojans to the limit but it still was not enough.
Garner received a standout 35-point performance from junior guard Thomas Allen and the Trojans needed every little bit of it to hold off the Comets and their talented guards in a 76-65 championship victory at Campbell University’s Gore Arena on Thursday night.
Darius Stevens scored 12 points in the opening minutes to help push Clayton out in front of Garner 23-10 by the end of the opening quarter but Allen quickly melted that deficit away in the second quarter.
Allen was a perfect 5-of-5 from the foul line in the second period, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and added a pair of pull-up jumpers to help Garner (25-2) storm back and take a 35-34 lead at halftime.
“In the first quarter, we kind of played their game so we wanted to get back to our game,” Allen said. “We came back at them in the second quarter; we scored a lot of points but we also did a real good job on defense.”
There was no absolute no quit in the Comets (21-6) however, even after falling behind 46-38 halfway through the third quarter. Stevens score the last six points of the quarter to bring Clayton back to within two points.
Then, to start the fourth quarter, the Comets went on a 10-4 run as they spread the floor and let their guards take turns getting to the basket to take a 58-54 lead with 5:14 remaining.
“Basketball’s a game of matchups and they basically had four guards out there so we had some matchup problems,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “They’re not really a good team for us to match up with.”
After an Alex Reed layup, Allen once again answered for the Trojans with a 3-pointer to give Garner the lead for good as the Trojans proceeded to ice the game away at the foul line while the fouls continued to pile up for Clayton.
To go along with Allen’s heroics, Garner received impressive performances from three of its big men.
In addition to owning the glass, Kenyon Burt was the only other Trojan to reach double figures with 12 points. Omari Harris went for nine points while Alex Reed totaled seven points and nine rebounds.
Stevens led the Comets with 18 points, Martavis McLamb had 16, Zack Greene chipped in with 12 points and Macaleb Roberston added nine.
Clayton’s leading scorer, Tre Armstead, was limited because of foul trouble that led to Armstead sitting on the bench for long periods of time including the Trojans’ explosive second quarter.
“In the semifinals, Tre (Armstead) has 32 points and tonight he has five points,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “The fact that our leading scorer had five points and didn’t get to play all that much considering he usually doesn’t get off the floor and we stood toe-to-toe with Garner, it’s something that I hope our kids can gain some confidence from.”
Outside of a six-point semifinal win over Rolesville the night before, the only other times Garner has been strongly tested this year in conference play came from the Comets. And Clayton’s only two losses in its last 15 games have come at the hands of Garner.
“Since Clayton’s gotten in our conference, it’s become a great rivalry and it’s always an intense game,” Gray said. “Coach Medlin does an outstanding job there. They’ve really been our chief rival in basketball.”
GNRC 4A Boys
First Round: Rolesville 57, East Wake 44; Clayton 67, Harnett Central 50; Garner 89, West Johnston 39; Knightdale def. Southeast Raleigh
Semifinals: Garner 78, Rolesville 68; Clayton 70, Knightdale 60
Championship: Garner 75, Clayton 64