A strange start to the season-opener for defending state 4A basketball champion Garner was followed by a strong finish Tuesday night.
The Trojans began the game with a technical foul for dunking the ball in pregame warm-ups and had their hands full for a quarter against Cleveland. Then the Trojans picked up the defensive pressure, started getting their running game in gear and rolled to a 92-44 victory.
“That was an unusual way to start,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “Hopefully we learned a lesson from that. We’ll just have to make sure we use the backboard when we warm up.
“We kind of went out sluggish and they did a good job of controlling the tempo. But I was proud of the way we changed at the end of the (first) quarter. We got the lead and in the second quarter we began to play our style of basketball.”
The Trojans, ranked No. 1 in The News & Observer preseason poll, return three starters from last year’s state champions – senior center Alex Reed, junior guard Thomas Allen and senior guard Nick Kuhns. But they Trojans lost their outstanding point guard, Julius Barnes, and another starter transferred away.
“That team is gone, this is a whole different set of personalities, a different team,” Gray said. “I was pleased that everybody got a chance to play. I thought we played hard. Even though Thomas Allen didn’t have a real good shooting night, I thought he did a job at point guard for us.
“I thought everybody coming off the bench did a good job. We have some really good sophomores on this team.”
The Trojans have five players on their roster 6-foot-5 or taller and they banged the boards hard against Cleveland, getting numerous offensive rebounds and converting those into putback points.
A zone press also worked well for the Trojans, who twice forced 10-second calls and came up with fastbreak baskets after turnovers.
“We need to limit our turnovers,” Cleveland coach John Jacobs said. “They are so big and do a good job with their press. We kind of panicked a little bit.”
Garner placed five players in double figures.
The game began to turn when Garner increased its defensive pressure late in the first quarter. With the Trojans’ press beginning to take its toll and force turnovers, Garner went on an 11-3 run to end the first period and grab a 15-10 lead. By the end of the second quarter, the lead was 44-21 and the Trojans were well on their way to a big victory.
They said it
“I like what Coach K said at Duke, that they are the reigning champions not the defending champions,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “That is what I told the team.”
Three who mattered
Kenyon Burt, Garner: The 6-foot-5 sophomore scored a team-high 16 points and was aggressive on the boards for the rebound-hogging Trojans.
Alex Reed, Garner: The 6-foot-5 senior had 14 points and was another inside force for the Trojans. He also stepped outside to knock down a 3-pointer in the first quarter.
Tanner Costine, Garner: The senior guard scored a game-high 18 points for the Rams.