Top seeds Garner and Clayton advanced to the finals of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference boys basketball tournament with semifinal victories on Wednesday.
While that might have been expected, there was plenty of drama in the evening’s first game matching the top-seeded Trojans and fourth-seeded Rolesville.
Garner, the defending state 4A champion and winners twice by 30-plus points in the regular season against Rolesville, had to scrap for a 72-66 victory.
“Yesterday after we got through with the first game, I said, ‘I can tell you right now that (Rolesville coach) Tommy Moore will have his team ready to play,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “‘You embarrassed them in the regular season on senior night. They are going to come after your butts. If you are not mentally ready to play, you are going to have a tough game.’”
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The Trojans survived the scare to win their 14th straight game and improve to 24-2.
Clayton, the No. 2 seed, built a 21-point lead against No. 3-seeded Knightdale before winning 70-60.
“We did some good things, obviously, to win,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “I thought both teams played hard. Knightdale is a good team. We’ve got a tough league and I’m just happy to be in the championship game.”
The finals were set for Thursday night at Campbell University.
Rams give Trojans everything they want
Garner could never really shake Rolesville (10-16). The Rams led 39-37 at halftime and Garner was ahead by a point at the end of the third period, 48-47.
In the fourth quarter, however, the Trojans used a hot hand at the free throw line to put away the pesky Rams.
The Trojans were 16-for-18 at the line in the final period, scoring just eight points from the field in the quarter.
“Survive and advance,” Gray said. “I learned that from my good friend Hal Stewart, survive and advance. That’s what we did.”
The Trojans had to overcome a 34-point outburst from Rolesville sophomore guard Ricky Clemmons, who combined 3-pointers and drives to the basket to frustrate the Trojans. Point guard Jaylin Park added 14.
“We went through the motions in the first half,” Gray said. “They did a good job of getting us in a lot of one-on-one situations and we didn’t play good help-side (defense). We missed a lot of easy shots and missed a lot of free throws in the first half but fortunately we survived the game.”
Garner got 23 points from junior guard Thomas Allen, 14 from sophomore forward Kenyon Burt, 12 from senior guard Nick Kuhns and 11 from junior forward Alex Reed.
Clayton thrives in second half
Clayton and Knightdale stayed tight for the first half, with Clayton up three at the end of the first quarter and four at halftime.
The third quarter proved to the turning point as the Comets used hot outside shooting to build the lead to 14 at 53-39.
The Comets (21-5) hit four 3-pointers in the period, including 3s on three consecutive possessions late in the quarter.
Senior guard Tre Armstead, who led the Comets with a game-high 32 points despite playing the final quarter on an injured right ankle, was the key marksman. He hit from outside, drove to the basket and also played tenacious defense.
Darrius Stevens added 13 pionts for Clayton and Zach Greene had 10.
Knightdale (19-7) was led by senior forward Josh Schenck with 19 points.
“For the most part, I thought our kids did a good job defensively,” Medlin said. “They are really hard and they were pounding the ball inside against us. That was tough for us and created some mismatches, but our kids worked hard at rebounding and keeping them off the boards.”