CLEVELAND — Gary Clark proved to be a little too much for Cleveland Tuesday night.
And he got some major help from his teammates in the backcourt too.
The lanky 6-7 junior poured in 26 points, thrilling the crowd with five dunks in the first half, as Clayton rolled to a 61-44 boys’ basketball victory over the scrappy host Rams.
The was win the second in as many nights to open the season for Clayton, a member of the Greater Neuse River 4A, while Eastern Carolina 3A member Cleveland fell to 0-2.
The teams will meet again Dec. 5 at Clayton.
Point guard Anthony Gaskins, the Comets’ only other returning starter from last season, added 15 points for Clayton, as did sharpshooter Dawson Medlin – son of head coach Denny Medlin – who got his on five 3-pointers.
“I liked our intensity coming out of the gate and jumping out to a big lead,” said Coach Medlin, whose team had demolished visiting Fuquay-Varina 92-41 on Monday night.
“I didn’t like our defensive effort in large parts of the game,” he added. “We’ve got to play defense every single possession, because when we get into conference play. we’re going to have to play every possession like it could mean the ball game.”
Bobby Stenburg led the Rams with 13 points, while Kodi Whitley chipped in 12.
“Our guys have a lot of heart,” said Cleveland’s first-year head coach, John Jacobs, whose 3-year-old school now has its first senior class. “I challenged them at halftime, and they rose to the challenge in the second half. We were just too nervous in the beginning and turned the ball over too much.”
Clayton led 22-10 after the first quarter and 40-18 at halftime before the Rams began to chip away at the lead.
“We played OK, but we should have played harder on the defensive end,” said Clark, who has nine Division I offers, including the latest from Clemson over the weekend. “We didn’t play great, but a win is a win. I know my teammates get excited when I dunk, so I try to do it any time I get the ball inside the paint.
Gaskins said it’s a plus to get Clark the ball for breakaway dunks to get the Comets’ crowd going.
“We started out playing good defense, and our offense came off our defense,” Gaskins said. “When Gary dunks, it’s a big lift. It just psyches us up, and we feed off what he does.”
Stenburg said he was happy his team kept fighting after the Comets got an insurmountable lead.
“I think we played pretty well,” Stenburg said. “At least we contained them to a pretty low score. When Clark was out there, I just tried to go up as strong as I could. If he blocks the shot, he blocks it.”