Thomas Allen stepped up.
The Garner junior guard hadn’t scored in the entire third quarter of Tuesday’s fourth-round playoff game against the visiting Millbrook boys’ basketball team.
Just when the Wildcats thought they were on the verge of taking off for good, Allen stopped it.
His 3-pointer reversed a late Millbrook lead and an additional basket to follow gave the Trojans life in their 92-88 victory over the Wildcats. Ending Millbrook’s season for the second straight year in the N.C. High School Athletic Association postseason, the defending 4A champions got one step closer to the repeat.
They’ll face top-seeded Cary Saturday in the East regional finals in Fayetteville, and the game times will be announced Wednesday.
Allen led No. 2 Garner (29-2) with 23 points, scoring 12 in the first quarter. His quick five late in the fourth helped fend off a third-seeded Millbrook team on a mission for revenge and — previously — its own state championship.
When Millbrook drove and missed with 5.4 seconds left in a one-point game, Garner sophomore forward Kenyon Burt recovered the defensive rebound that kept the Trojans afloat in the waning seconds.
“It was just a heck of a game in a great atmosphere,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “We didn’t sub a lot in the second half. Millbrook, what a team. You knew they were going to make us earn it, and they did.”
Millbrook (28-2) trailed by 19 in the first half, before Garner took a 49-36 lead at the break. The Trojans had made six of 10 3-pointers in that time. Millbrook went 2-of-17 from deep in the first half.
The Wildcats appeared a different team once the third quarter started. They came out with a seemingly renewed sense of purpose, led behind a charge from senior forward Trejon Jacob.
Jacob made four consecutive 3s as the visitors muscled their way back. He led all scorers with 33 points.
“We made shots, we played better on the defensive end, we didn’t lose Thomas as much,” Millbrook coach Scott McInnes said of his team’s second-half play. “But I think the biggest thing is that there’s a brotherhood in there. I mean, guys were crying and you could tell they left it all on the floor.”
Though the Trojans erased a 79-78 Millbrook lead, the Cats battled to that one-point deficit twice late in the fourt. With 15 seconds, they were trailing 89-88. Millbrook senior forward Faison Brock came up with a big steal in the final seconds, but Garner finished at the line.
Garner came up with two defensive rebounds at the close.
Garner’s Nick Kuhns had 17 points, Omari Harris added 15 and Alex Reed, who played limited due to an apparent eye injury, contributed 10 points. Andrew Abrom posted 11 points and a team-best eight rebounds.
Brock led on the glass with 15 boards. Millbrook’s Jordan Whitfield had 21 points, and John Burwell scored 17.
D. Clay Best contributed to this report
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4583, @JessikaMorgan