East Wake’s buzzer beating 3-pointer to send the game into overtime wasn’t enough to stall Garner, which overcame their cross-county rival with a 74-66 victory Friday night.
Garner, which had won the prior meeting with a formidable 75-52 win on Dec. 12, remained unbeaten in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference (8-0) with the victory.
Forward Jashaun Smith carried his team late in the game. The junior totaled 20 points at the post by playing physically down low, handling the ball aggressively, and killing defenders with smooth short range jumpers.
A back and forth clash ensued down the stretch.
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As Smith continued to dominate with short jumpers, Julius Barnes also contributed to the mix by leading attacks in transition. Nick Kuhns and Alex Reed also led the Trojans by scoring inside, drawing fouls, and knocking down free throws.
As Garner switched to man defense late in the fourth, East Wake pinpointed a weakness by setting screens to give Josh Siler the ball outside the arc, setting him up for a trio of three pointers in the final quarter. Siler was 4 for 5 from 3-point range in regulation.
“We didn’t do a good job of defending their wing shooter in regulation,” said Garner coach Eddie Gray. “Everybody in the gym knew No. 10 [Siler] was going to shoot the ball, at least I did.”
In the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter, Kuhns was at the free throw line with a one-point advantage.
“I knew he was going to make them both,” East Wake coach Gerald Melton said. “We had a dribble handoff, then a screen away on the other side. The player drove baseline then kicked it over, and Josh was wide open and he knocked it down at the buzzer.”
Though East Wake carried the momentum into overtime, Garner refused to give up their undefeated mark in the league.
“We just had to forget about that,” Gray said. “We had to get back into a mode of attacking the basket. We were fortunate enough to get some steals and rebounds and turn them into easy points.”
A long 3 and a transition layup from sophomore Thomas Allen, paired with two baskets down low from Garner’s forwards sealed the game for the 16-1 Trojans.
The first half was a battle between the point guards.
Barnes had 19 points in the matchup, serving as an offensive catalyst by contending as a dual threat on offense. The senior was accurate from the field and was quick to recognize zone gaps, scoring several times off the drive.
Josh McLean kept East Wake in the game, knocking down four threes in the first half.
Both sides depended on outside shots to kick their team into gear. Three separate players from Garner scored from behind the arc in the first quarter.
Though the Trojans boasted excellent shooting, East Wake was able to slow down the scoring from down low by keeping a tight zone that disrupted Garner’s attacks in the post.
After facing an eight-point deficit in the first half, efficient shooting by McLean and Siler helped East Wake bounce back to tie the game up midway through the third quarter.
While offensive momentum allowed East Wake to catch up to Garner, scoring lacked in the frontcourt for the Trojans, as most of their shots came from the guards.
“Our coach kept telling us to get it down low,” Barnes said. “The zone they were playing was pretty good; they were forcing us to shoot jump shots and they weren’t falling.”
Despite losing, Melton kept a positive outlook on the game.
“That’s a great team,” Melton said. “I’m proud of my kids because we played right with them. We showed that we can play with every team in this league.”