It was a glamorous high school basketball game that both teams had to have guts to play.
And the boys from the Water Tower Town came out on top.
Junior Thomas Allen scored 30 points and had four spectacular assists, leading defending state 4A champion Garner to a 93-89 win over Word of God before a standing-room-only home crowd on Wednesday night.
The victory improved the Trojans to 13-2 on the season while Word of God – which has played a tough national schedule and was in its first game of the season against a North Carolina public school – fell to 4-11.
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Andrew Abrom added 20 points for the Trojans, including a trio of 3-pointers in the second half.
The 6-foot-5 Rawle Atkins, who is ranked as one of the nation’s top 10 guards and has both North Carolina and N.C. State left on his recruiting list, led the Holy Rams with 26.
The Holy Rams took a 12-3 lead before the Trojans roared back to trail just 36-33 at the break. Neither team led by more than seven points the rest of the way.
“It was more of the same for us,” said first-year Word of God coach Brian Clifton, who was a former football player at The Citadel. “On paper we’re more talented than this, but we’ve had a lot of adversity. We commit a lot of turnovers trying to make the extra pass. We’ve got a lot of talent, but we’ve got a considerable amount to learn about the game of basketball.”
With the score tied at 85-85, Abrom and Allen had back-to-back buckets to give the Trojans the lead for good. It was 90-89 before Omari Harris hit two free throws with 12.5 left and the first of two at 2.1 seconds to clinch it.
They said it
“It was a great high school basketball game and our kids were resilient,” veteran Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “It was a big win. They had five Division I players on that team, and we just play kids who come here in the ninth grade and stay for four years. We knew it would be a great game for our community, and I kind of wanted to send a message. I’m a public school guy and always will be. I think most of our politicians went to public schools. I don’t understand why they don’t understand that.”
Three who mattered
Thomas Allen, Garner: The 6-foot-2 junior guard, who has an expanding list of interested parties in Division I, took control in the second half.
“That was probably one of the five best wins since I’ve been here,” Allen said. “They were the most talented team we’ve played against. I think this wakes everybody up about how good a team we have too.”
Andrew Abrom, Garner: The 6-2 senior guard scored inside and out down the stretch to help seal the victory.
“I don’t go to my shot a whole lot, but if they sag off like that I’m going to pull it,” Abrom said. “I had read about a lot of their guys on social media. They get all that attention and I sort of had a chip on my shoulder tonight.”
Rawle Atkins, Word of God: Probably the most talented player on the floor, the 6-5 senior wing answered every time the Trojans threatened to get a working margin.
“It was a tough game in a great environment,” Atkins said. “It was my first time witnessing the ‘Hoop State’ environment. Everyone talks about North Carolina being the best state when it comes to basketball. Their point guard (Allen) killed us tonight. I wish him the best. That was a coming-out party for him tonight.”
By the numbers
9: Rebounds for Garner forward Kenyon Burt.
10: Points including three alley-oop dunks from Allen for Garner forward Davon Newton.
11: Points including the three late free throws for the Trojans’ Omari Harris.
13: Points for Word of God junior Blake Harris.
16: Points for Holy Rams senior guard Jalen Harris.
18: Points for Holy Rams 6-9 junior center Brandon Huffman.
The Trojans will take their 5-0 Greater Neuse River 4A conference record into Friday night’s home game against West Johnston before playing the next two games on the road.
Word of God plays Genesis Academy of Lynchburg, Va., on Saturday in the Big Apple Classic at Baruch College in New York. The Holy Rams’ other game in the classic is on Monday afternoon against South Kent of Connecticut.