SMITHFIELD -- Smithfield-Selma held a pep rally before Friday night’s games against Greater Neuse River 4A Conference rival Clayton.
The Comets’ Anthony Gaskins then held some festivities of his own.
Gaskins dumped in 26 first-half points – finishing the game with 36 – en route to a narrow 78-69 boys basketball victory that spoiled the Spartans’ upset hopes.
Gaskins scored 26 of his team’s first 44 points – at one point pocketing 12 straight – and helped Clayton build up a 12-point halftime lead. But the Spartans (9-13, 3-10) quieted Gaskins in the second half and clawed back to within three points in the fourth quarter before Clayton (20-1, 11-1) pulled away at the foul line.
Turning Point: With just under five minutes remaining the Spartans trailed just 63-59 after a Tez Leach three-pointer. But with Clayton in the double bonus, the Comets scored their next nine points at the free throw line and opened up a 72-61 lead with just two minutes to play.
Putting up Numbers: Gaskins scored 11 points in the first quarter and 15 in the second before notching just three in the third quarter and seven in the fourth. He made eight three-pointers, three two-point field goals and went 6-for-8 at the foul line.
“He’s getting in that zone,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “He’s playing really well at the right time. He’s just been feeling it lately.”
Said Smithfield-Selma coach James Robinson: “With Anthony shooting the way he was in the first half, honestly that was the difference. Anthony was completely unconscious.”
What worked: The 3-point line was a hot spot for both teams. Each side connected on 12 3-pointers. Gaskins accounted for eight and even Clayton big man Gary Clark got in on the action, nailing a three-ball in the third quarter.
Smithfield-Selma had five different players hit from the perimeter with five from Leach and four by Montrel Sheperd.
“Smithfield shot the ball exceptionally well tonight,” Medlin said. “They kept on knocking down threes.”
What didn't work: The Spartans fell into foul trouble and Clayton took full advantage. The Comets went 24-for-34 at the foul line while Smithfield-Selma was just 1-for-5. The bulk of Clayton’s free throws were in a fourth-quarter bonus situation. Leading 56-51 to start the quarter, the Comets converted 16-of-22 free throws in the final period.
“I think a lot of that was because Anthony had 26 points in the first half so they had to get out on him and the one that benefited from that was Gary Clark (who scored 11 of his 16 points at the foul line),” Medlin said.
History shows: The game was much different than the first meeting between the teams on Jan. 4. Clayton won that contest by 30 points, 75-45.
Feeling the impact: Clayton, which handed Garner its first conference loss on Wednesday, is locked in a tie for the top spot in the Greater Neuse.
Smithfield-Selma will likely have to win out against East Wake and Southeast Raleigh to make the playoffs and even then it may come down to a tiebreaker.