Without the services of East Carolina recruit Kentrell Barkley, Northern Durham’s boys basketball team couldn’t avenge last year’s season-ending loss to Apex.
Instead, the Cougars didn’t trail in the second half en route to a 57-42 victory during the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Classic at the Durham School of Arts. Barkley was injured in a fall during an 81-73 loss to Panther Creek on Saturday as part of the MLK showcase, bruising his back.
“It throws off quite a bit because he kind of gets us going,” Northern coach Ronnie Russell said. “He does a lot of good things. He’s got several double-doubles. He can get on the boards and get it out for us, he can handle the ball real well. It made a big difference. We weren’t the same team.”
But on Monday, Apex (10-6, 6-0) avoided the dramatics by playing arguably its best defense of the season. The Cougars changed the game in the second quarter by getting points off turnovers.
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“It’s certainly better than what we’ve been giving up. They had their best player out and I’m sure he’s averaging at least 20 – and there’s your difference for what we’ve been giving up,” Apex coach David Neal said.
Apex has yet to lose in three years of play at the MLK event. A halftime fix in the rebound department helped out.
“I asked them at halftime how many offensive rebounds we had – ‘raise your hand if you had one’ – and nobody raised their hand,” Neal said. “We were just getting destroyed on the glass.”
Without Barkley, no Northern (13-4, 3-0) players got more than T.J. Crutchfield’s eight points. Those who tried to attack the basket were often met by Apex center Jon Jones, who had seven blocks.
“They missed a lot of shots in the paint and I think he was the reason why,” Neal said.
“They didn’t seem to be a shooting team. They liked to drive it, and that made it easier to block shots,” Jones said.
Apex’s Ian Boyd had 18 points followed by Jones (11), Colin Molden (10 with 10 assists) and John Kitoko (10). Apex will play at Holly Springs on Wednesday before hosting Middle Creek.
Northern Durham will travel to Jordan (15-1, 3-0) with first place in the PAC-6 on the line Friday. Russell said he hopes Barkley will be back.
“I hope we learned a little something,” Russell said of his team’s 0-2 mark at the event. “At any time, we can have people out for injury or illness, and we’ve got to have people step up.”
Apex defeated Northern in the third round of last year’s playoffs on a buzzer-beater to win 64-63. It was the first of four nail-biters as Apex went on to win the state championship, and it was one of just two Northern losses.