Just because Cary’s boys basketball team lost only two games last year doesn’t mean it didn’t have to overcome slow starts, though they often finished in thrilling victories.
The Imps still have a flair for the dramatic, overcoming a sluggish start to down Southwest Wake Athletic Conference rival Athens Drive 57-56 in overtime Thursday night.
With the Jaguars’ focus being on Donte Tatum, now the top dog in the Imps’ offense with Cory Gensler now at Campbell University, it created space for a pass to Elijah Idlett in the corner, setting up the 3-pointer that put the game to bed.
“As I was about to break them down, I saw Eli’s man come help on ‘D’ and I trusted Eli, he’s a good player so I kicked it to him and he made the shot,” Tatum said.
Idlett added: “My job was to get in the corner … and I work so hard to hit big shots and that’s what I do, man.”
Idlett’s stat line didn’t jump off the page – he only shot 4 of 12 from the field, though, he went 3 for 6 from 3 – but his impact was present through the fourth quarter and overtime, shutting down Athens Drive’s D.J. Robertson. Robertson finished with 16 points, but shot 6 for 20.
“Elijah Idlett was a big-time hero for us; his second half, I thought, was flawless,” Cary coach Allan Gustafson said. “His defense on (Robertson) was terrific and the main thing we emphasized was make him earn it and don’t foul him.”
Athens held a two-point lead with just under a minute to go and were in position to milk the clock before a clutch steal from Jeff Fortuny (who finished with 21 points while hitting five shots from behind the arc) set the Imps up for the winning bucket.
THREE TO KNOW
Phillip Blackley, Cary: Despite battling an illness, Blackley was huge on the boards for Cary, grabbing 10 while also making his defensive presence known in the paint.
“He said ‘Coach, don’t take me out, don’t take me out,’ and that’s just a winner,” Gustafson said.
Donte Tatum, Cary: Tatum finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds while transitioning to point guard after returner Darrion Burnett tore his knee in football season. After the Imps fell behind 19-10 at the end of the first period, Tatum scored 11 points in the second quarter to make the game close again.
“We started off passive … and then Donte was able to get to the rim,” Gustafson. “We got stops and started being able to attack off the break.”
Xzavier McNeil, Athens Drive: 20 points (9 of 13 from the field) and six rebounds.
THEY SAID IT
“I give all the credit to (Athens Drive’s) coach (Robbie) St. John, he’s got people here at Athens excited again about basketball,” Gustafson said. “I haven’t seen a crowd like that in this gym in many years and I’ve been around here forever. Usually we’re playing in a library … but it was a great atmosphere and I give St. John a lot of credit.”