Apex basketball coach David Neal expected a tough battle with Green Hope, but he should have known better once he knotted his blue striped tie with bold NC initials to honor the memory of Dean Smith.
Neal, a North Carolina walk-on in the mid-1990s under the legendary coach, watched his Cougars put on a Carolina Way-clinic in the first game since his mentor passed away Saturday at age 83. Apex’s selfless ball movement resulted in 13 of 23 3-point field goals in an 82-54 win over Green Hope Tuesday in the Cougars’ gym to clinch a fourth straight conference title.
“I’d like to think he’d be proud of my team,” Neal said. “All of Coach Smith’s former players want to make him proud. I hope we’ve been able to do that with what we’ve done here at Apex. My thoughts were with him last year, too, when we won the state (4A) title.”
Apex, which only beat Green Hope 63-57 in the first meeting, improved to 15-8 overall and 11-2 to wrap up the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference title with a three-game lead and one regular-season contest to play.
Ian Boyd led the Cougars’ balanced scoring with 20 points and two 3-pointers. John Kitoko added 19 points with five 3-pointers, while Eric Fox finished with 15 points (two 3-pointers).
Despite the loss, Green Hope (12-11, 8-5 SWAC) remained in a four-way tie for second place. Holly Springs, Cary and Panther Creek all are 8-5 with the Falcons after Panther Creek defeated Holly Springs and Cary beat Middle Creek.
Green Hope was tied with Apex 19-19 after the first quarter and led 28-27 midway through the second period, but the Cougars finished with a 6-0 run that included a dunk from Boyd.
“We did some good things in the first half,” Green Hope coach John Green said. “But the second half, they got hot and got every rebound, offensive and defensive. If we’re not going to rebound and they’re shooting that well, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Apex outscored Green Hope 23-14 in the third quarter and 26-12 in the fourth.
For Green Hope, Trip Knapp scored 13 points and Will Harkins, 10.
Apex has been playing the past two weeks without injured point guard Colin Molden, but Neal said he has been cleared to resume practice on Friday and prepare for the postseason.