Chris Clemons knew he wasn't shooting it well and he knew Apex was. But the Millbrook senior point guard's role is to keep his team positive.
So for every punch Apex landed on Tuesday night, Millbrook's boys basketball team had a counter. And then another.
Millbrook defeated the Cougars 79-60 in what was a rematch of last year's 4A East final. Apex won that game and then claimed the state title.
"It was just another game for us. We didn't want to put too much pressure on ourselves or anyone else. We just came into the game with a positive attitude, and it helped," Clemons said. "We just wanted to stay poised during the whole game and follow our game plan, play the way we want to play and play our style of basketball."
Apex (1-2) hit 12 3-pointers in the game, but only got it as close as 10 after the middle of the third quarter. The Cougars got a game-high 18 points from Davis Dupree, all from 3-pointers.
However, five of those were in the first half, as Millbrook (4-0) led 40-29, and only one in the second.
"In the first half, Davis had like five 3s and we're still down by 11 - and their best player (Clemons) didn't have any 3s. But defensively, we were just giving up too many points," Apex coach Dave Neal said. "We're trying to hold teams in the 40s and we're not even close right now. They have a lot of guys who can score."
Wildcats junior Trejon Jacob, a transfer from Texas, had a team-high 17 points off the bench to lead a balanced scoring attack.
"I think I fit in pretty well. These guys are my family, and I just do what I can to help the team," Jacob said.
Clemons (four steals, five assists) had 12 points as did senior Jordan Sterrett (8 of 10 in free throws). Six-foot-nine center Rob Brown had 16 points and seven rebounds. Forward Faison Brock (five steals) had nine points and nine rebounds to narrowly miss a double-double.
Millbrook had five players dunk a total of six times - including a Clemons breakaway and an Andrew Evans jam over an Apex defender.
"I'm disturbed that we hit 12 threes and we lost by 19 points, but that goes back to the defensive end. My assistant told me they had like 27 2s. All the dunks in the lane and the putbacks, they hurt us," Neal said.
Neal also lamented his team's 4-of-13 night at the free throw line. Millbrook was 12-of-14 in the first half alone.
Millbrook coach Scott McInnes knew he wouldn't have to say anything to his team, many of whom remember last year's loss. But at the same time, there is a new dynamic with Clemons' senior leadership that has already closed the book on last season.
"This is a totally different year. We have to focus on this year and what we do well," McInnes said.
Apex's John Kitoko had 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. Ian Boyd had 17 points with seven rebounds.