Millbrook became the final destination for eastern Wake County boys basketball teams competing in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state playoffs.
The No. 2 seeded Wildcats topped No. 15 East Wake, 76-52, in the second round Monday and went on to dismiss No. 10 Knightdale in a 97-66 third-round victory Wednesday.
Millbrook set the tone in Tuesday’s matchup with Knightdale from the opening minutes. The Wildcats forced turnovers on the Knights’ first three possessions.
The start prompted Knightdale to call a timeout just 55 seconds into the game, allowing the Knights to calm down and briefly take an 8-7 lead before Millbrook (25-2) took over, leading by seven after the first quarter and 23 at halftime. Knightdale wouldn’t come within single digits for the remainder of the contest.
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For Millbrook coach Scott McInnes, seeing the Wildcats’ defense set the tone for the game, was a welcome shift late in the season for a the high-scoring team.
“Our defense was really good tonight,” McInnes said. “I didn’t sleep much last night because Knightdale is so good. Their offense is unbelievable, and they’ve got a great scorer in (Daquan) Lilly. He’s fantastic. We did a good job on him most of the night.”
“We’ve got a great shooting team, and now our defense is starting to match our offense, which has been good. So that’s really where we’re picking up right now.”
Millbrook Senior Chris Clemons sparked the Wildcats, scoring 22 points during a 32-16 second-quarter run that put the game out of reach by halftime. He finished with 41, breaking his own record for most points in a game by a Millbrook player.
Robert Brown was consistent in the lane paint throughout the game, finishing with 27 points to become Millbrook’s all-time career scoring leader record holder with 1,239 points over the past four seasons.
Millbrook moved on to face No. 3 seed Fayetteville Seventy-First in the East Regional semifinals Thursday at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville.
Dondre Griffin led the Knights (20-7) with 18 points. Jordan Shannon added 12, and Lilly finished with 5.
“It’s not easy,” McInnes said of Millbrook’s playoff wins through Wednesday. “That Knightdale team is no joke. They’re a great team, so we beat a really good team, and East Wake was a great team, and Green Hope. We had a tough draw and I feel like we showed up and played hard.”
East Wake (17-8) was led by Josh Siler (14 points) and Quincy Jackson (10) in its loss to Millbrook. Robert Brown led the Wildcats with 24 points and Trejon Jacob added 20 points, including six 3-pointers.
“It’s a unique situation with us,” said East Wake coach Gerald Melton. “I didn’t really take over the job until October, so the biggest thing I said to them is the biggest regret I’ve got it we just didn’t have enough time to do some of the things we would’ve liked to have done like the offseason workouts. But these kids battled.”
Melton reflected on other challenges his team faced throughout the season. Injuries led to several players missing four or five games, and some of the team’s top players joined the team late due the deep playoff run made by the East Wake football team in the fall.
“To put it together to go 17-7 and to the second round of the playoffs, you’ve got to be proud of them,” Melton said. “They gave you everything they had every night. As coaches, you can see some things that if we just had a little more time to work on this or that, but then you run into a team like Millbrook who’s just really, really loaded. But we battled, and that’s all you can really ask.”
Melton already looks forward to next season and the prospect of having a true offseason until next fall.
It will give him more time to work with younger players and do things coaches normally get to do, like focus on fundamentals and conditioning.
“We’re just at a different level, strength-wise, than some of the top teams we play like Garner, Knightdale and Millbrook,” he said. “Those guys are physically strong, so as a group we have to get stronger to handle being stronger with the ball. That comes down to being in the weight room and just getting physically stronger to compete with Millbrook, Garner and Knightdale, because that’s what we’re here to do, to compete with those top level teams.
“Now, attitude-wise and effort, we are (there), but I think physically is where we’ve got to improve.”