Clayton junior point guard MaCaleb Robertson was on the line with 10.9 seconds left in regulation with a chance to ice an upset over Cary in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state playoffs Friday night.
Instead, his shot missed and Imp’s guard Elijah Idlett sent the game to overtime with a 3-pointer.
After 3 minutes and 59.5 seconds of overtime, Robertson found himself in the same place – on the line with the game in the balance.
This time his shot was true, swishing both to propel the No. 30 seed Comets (14-12) into the second round with a 56-54 win over the defending East Region champion Imps. Clayton (14-12) advances to play No. 19 Apex (17-10), which upset No. 12 Hoggard 51-46.
“I knew those were going in, there was no way I was going to let my teammates down again,” Robertson said. “I was down at the beginning of overtime, but I knew I had to get up and play well the rest of the way.”
Cary, champions of the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference, finished 18-9.
“I’m just so proud of them tonight,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “They played with the type of passion, the energy and competitiveness … all of the things we like to call Clayton basketball tonight.”
The Imps took a 42-26 lead with 5:43 left in the fourth as center Philip Blackley scored a layup off a pass from Donte Tatum. But Clayton got a 3-pointer by Martavis McLamb and four points from Robertson to take the lead back with 4:06 on the clock.
Those four points came off of Cary turnovers, something that came back to haunt the hosts in the extra session.
The Imps owned a 54-52 lead after Tatum scored with 2:46 left in the extra session, and forced a miss on the other end.
However, Robertson knocked the ball free near midcourt and his feed inside to Devin Carter netted the forward a pair of free throws with 1:33 to go. He knocked them both down to tie it.
Cary took a timeout with 1:18 to go, and Tatum drove to the hoop, but was double teamed and turned it over.
“I like to get my players’ involved and I asked them ‘What do you want to run?’” Cary head coach Allan Gustafson said. “So we said let’s go into the set, spread the floor and Donte make a move. You put the ball in your best player’s hands. He’s great off the dribble. You know, that’s what you do. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us. Our hats are off to Clayton.”
Much of slowing down Tatum, who led the Imps with 17 points, 15 rebounds and four assists in his final game, was on the shoulders of McLamb.
“He’s a great player and it was so hard guarding him,” said McLamb, who had 21 points to lead all scorers. “But I read the scouting report, he went hard, but I did what I needed to do and my teammates helped when I needed it.”
On the ensuing possession, Clayton’s Kenny Anderson missed a shot and Blackley grabbed his 16th rebound, but the ball was poked free to get the Comets the ball with 43.1 left.
“I just thought we had some crucial turnovers,” Gustafson said. “Careless turnovers, both in the fourth quarter, and two straight in the overtime as well. … And Clayton, they didn’t turn it over.”
The Comets won the turnover battle 13-3. Cary had four turnovers in the overtime alone.
“Wow, there are games I turn it over way more than three times,” Robertson said with a grin. “That’s just huge.”
Robertson held the ball until 10 seconds remained, finally driving to the hoop. He gave one cross-over that shed his defender and went into the lane where he was fouled with just half a second left.
“McCaleb Robertson really has played great some games this year, and not so great at times. But when he takes care of the ball like that and plays with that kind of passion, it’s incredible,” Medlin said.