Cary and Garner went toe-to-toe in a nonconference basketball battle Tuesday night, and Cary’s 1-2 punch of Cory Gensler and Donte Tatum proved to be the difference.
Gensler, a 6-foot-4 senior, and the speedy Tatum, a 6-2 junior, scored 30 points each as the Imps upended the defending state 4A champion Trojans 72-68.
“I said this before, Cory Gensler and Donte Tatum are the best 1-2 combination in the state,” Cary coach Allan Gustafson said. “We won 18 games last year and returned our entire team. We went out there tonight not only to make a statement but to earn some respect.”
Gensler, the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference player of the year last season, shot the ball well from the wing for the Imps. Tatum, a first-team all-conference player a year ago, slashed to the basket and also hit his share of jump shots.
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Down the stretch, after Garner erased an eight-point deficit to tie the score at 70-70 with 2:30 left in the game, Gensler and Tatum stepped up at the free throw line, combining to hit nine of 10 free throws in the final 1:02 and score the Imps’ final nine points.
Garner got 29 points from junior guard Thomas Allen, 19 points from sophomore Kenyon Burt and 16 from senior Andrew Abrom.
“(Cary) shot the ball real well and we didn’t,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “We missed easy shots inside in the first half. We made a good run at them but every time we would get the lead, they would come down and make a shot or make free throws. Give Cary all the credit.
“Anytime you are the state champion, everybody wants to beat you. All the hype, all the other stuff, maybe we can relax now and play basketball.”
Garner led by 10 points early in the game and was up by six at the end of the first period. Cary answered with a strong second quarter and led 34-29 at halftime.
After Garner had pulled to a 60-60 tie, Cary junior Kyle Gensler, Cory’s brother, knocked in a 3-pointer that put the Imps up 63-60. Cary never trailed again, thanks to the free throw shooting of Cory Gensler and Tatum down the stretch.
They said it
“This was a barometer game,” Gustafson said. “Garner is where we want to get to. They are the defending state champs and are the No. 1 preseason team in all the polls. We were going to learn tonight how close we were to getting where they are. We made a statement tonight.”
Three who mattered
Cary’s Cory Gensler: The senior wing player was on-target all night, time after time hitting outside shots or going into the lane for pull-up jumpers to total 30 points. Garner’s defenders tried to close out on him, but got there too late on most occasions.
Cary’s Donte Tatum: The junior guard drove to the basket, hit jump shots and even grabbed an offensive rebound for a dunk as he matched Gensler’s 30.
Garner’s Thomas Allen: The junior point guard scored 29 points, hitting four 3-pointers. Allen’s final 3 pulled the Trojans within two points point with 6.2 seconds remaining.