Corey Gensler and Donte Tatum proved once again a difficult 1-2 punch as Cary defeated Riverside 69-52 win Saturday in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
Gensler scored 21 points and Tatum added 20, but the Imps acknowledged defense has been the reason ninth-seeded Cary (18-6) have now won five straight games and advanced to Monday’s second round at Wilmington’s Hoggard High.
“Our man-to-man defense is a lot better,” said Tatum, a 6-foot-1 sophomore. “We’re playing a lot harder. We defended tough and took their big men out of the game.”
Comparing finals score between Saturday’s playoff and the Imps’ 76-73 loss at Riverside in the season’s fifth game told the story of turning the table.
The Imps nearly matched their December output and season average of 70.5 points a game while holding the Riverside to 24 fewer points.
Riverside’s Markeise Crutchfield scored 15 points for the No. 22-seeded Pirates (17-8).
“Offensively, we’ve been good all year,” Cary coach Allan Gustafson said. “Defense has been the difference between 6-3 early in the season and 11-3 in the second part of the season. Scoring hasn’t been a problem. Defense is where we’re showing improvement.”
It was a tough first-round matchup with Cary ranked No. 9 among area schools and Riverside No. 15. The score was 26-26 at halftime and Cary edged ahead only 43-39 after three periods. But the Imps went on scoring runs of 10-1 and 8-2 in the fourth quarter to break open a comfortable double-digit lead.
Tatum scored 12 of his 20 points in the first half and Gensler 13 of his 21 in the second half, but another hot hand showed in the fourth period.
Kyle Gensler, a 6-2 sophomore, finished with 14 points, hitting four three-point field goals. Two of his three-pointers were in the fourth quarter on back-to-back shots from the left corner for the Imps’ first double-digit lead at 53-42 with 4:44 to play.
In all, Cary outscored Riverside 8-2 from beyond the three-point arc. The Imps nailed a three-pointer in every period.