The individual scouting reports on Garner’s boys basketball team have to be pretty boring to read. They all have to read something like this: athletic, confident shooter, good off the dribble, can pull up and hit the 18-footer, capable of hitting multiple 3-pointers in any game, solid passer who trusts his teammates.
It’s the last part of that rundown – the teammate-to-teammate trust – that the Trojans say has been most important on their run to a second consecutive N.C. High School Athletic Association East Regional Championship. Garner (29-2 and the 2015 state champ) meets rival Cary (30-1) at noon on Saturday in the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville with another state finals appearance on the line.
Garner plays offense like few teams. The Trojans have no problem with a two-pass possession: outlet pass off of a rebound, quick dribble push ahead and then a dish to a teammate slashing toward the basket or open behind the 3-point arc.
“We always have strived to have a very balanced offensive output in our program,” said veteran Garner coach Eddie Gray. “We want everybody to touch the ball and everybody on the court to be viewed as a threat to hit a jump shot or get to the basket to score.”
The Trojans have exhibited those traits throughout the playoffs, especially in Tuesday’s thrilling fourth round win over Millbrook. Garner is averaging more points in the playoffs (89.3 per game) than it did in the regular season (86.3). It has a 38-point quarter to its credit in the playoffs and reeled off 43 points in the first 13 minutes of play against a defensively sound Millbrook squad.
“We know how well we can play if we get off to a good start offensively,” said sophomore forward Kenyon Burt. “We play hard for each other and have that trust that everybody who’s out there on that floor can produce.”
Garner’s balance showed early against the Wildcats. The Trojans’ first six made field goals of the night included baskets from all five starters: junior Thomas Allen, senior Nick Kuhns, junior Alex Reed, senior Andrew Abrom and Burt.
The Trojans’ depth showed later as Reed (13.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg) had to leave the game for an extended time with a cut above his right eye and both Abrom (10.5 ppg) and Burt (9.1 ppg) dealt with foul trouble.
“Nick had to hit some very tough shots, other guys hit big shots,” Gray said. “And then Thomas hit a big 3 and a floater, but you go back and look at our scoring and it was a total team effort.”
Allen, the smoother shooter who shifted to more of a standard point guard role this season, led Garner with 23 points against Millbrook and averages 21 on the season. Kuhns had 17 and Omari Harris had 15 off the bench.
“You start building that trust in practice, then you get out there in games with each other and learn more and more what every other guy’s strengths are,” Burt said. “You get to this point of the season and we all know each other so well.”
Allen, whose two late shots helped fend off the Wildcats’ comeback attempt on Tuesday, had eight assists in the fourth round win.
“As a point guard this year, I have to trust every guy who’s going to be on the court,” Allen said. “And this group, I trust them all to the end. Nick, Alex, K.B., Andrew: they all played so well tonight and the guys off the bench were great.”
Now comes the same kind of challenge Garner faced in the 2015 regional final: a rematch with the only 4A team to beat the Trojans during the regular season, the Imps.
“We’ve worked to get back to this point all year,” Allen said. “We know how good of a team Cary is. It’s going to be another huge game for sure.”