CLAYTON — Coach Denny Medlin had a simple message for his team at halftime of Clayton’s game against West Johnston: get back to fundamentals on offense and defense.
“I just wanted them to play fundamental defense instead of cheating so much going for steals all the time,” Medlin said after his team’s 65-38 victory Tuesday night. “In the third quarter, we created more turnovers just being in the right position.
“We played more fundamentally sound of both sides of the ball in the second half.”
The Comets (21-2) were ahead just 28-26 at halftime, but were off and running after steals on three straight West Johnston possessions in the third period in which they oustcored the Wildcats 20-4.
Turning point: The first four minutes of the third quarter were all Clayton. The Comets went on a 12-0 run to take a 40-26 lead. West Johnston got its first bucket of the period with 3:15 remaining.
Highlight reel: It was actually a basket that didn’t count. Halfway through the final period, the Comets were on the break and senior guard Anthony Gaskins knew that 6-8 Gary Clark was trailing. Gaskins threw the ball off the backboard and Clark grabbed it and slammed it through. But a Wildcats player was called for fouling Gaskins as he put the ball on the backboard. The dunk was whistled off.
Unsung hero: Senior Demage Bailey, a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder who is going to East Carolina on a football scholarship as a defensive end, is a space eater inside for the Comets. He scored just three points against West Johnston but still made his mark. “Demage is a luxury to have,” Medlin said, “a kid that big to be a presence inside.”
Putting up numbers: Clayton’s dynamic duo of senior guard Anthony Gaskins (18 points) and junior Gary Clark (26 points) put up their usual numbers. Clark, averaging 25.1 points per game coming into the contest, also grabbed 13 rebounds. West Johnston got 13 points from Brandon Baucom, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the first half that pulled the Wildcats within 28-26.
What worked: Clayton turned up the intensity in the second half on both offense and defense. Clark was a force on both ends of the floor, several times grabbing a rebound and driving the length of the floor for a basket. In the second half, almost everything work for the Comets, who outscored West Johnston 37-12 in the final 16 minutes.
West Johnston played a scrappy first half, hitting its shots from the outside and working the ball inside as well. They also were able to keep the tempo more to their liking, keeping the quicker Comets from getting out of the break.
What didn’t work: Clayton was impatient on offense in the first half, missing seven of its first nine shots. That changed in the second half.
West Johnston struggled against Clayton’s pressure in the second half and didn’t come up with as many good shots on offense.
“We shot well in the first half, but that has been the story of the season,” West Johnston coach Kris Bennett said. “We’ve played great halves, great quarters. … In the second half, we didn’t make jump shots.”
Going forward: The victory put Clayton in position to capture at least a share of the regular-season championship in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference with a victory in its final game against Knightdale.
Heady student section: The Clayton student section has added several larger-than-life cutouts of the heads of Clark, Gaskins and coach Medlin. They debuted in last week’s homecourt win against Garner and have been on display in home games since.
Quote of the day: “Sometimes we forget that winning isn’t easy,” Medlin said. “At the beginning of the game it was like we were expecting the ball to fall in our hands and that we could just go down the court and go 1-on-5. In the second half, we moved the ball and played like we were supposed to play.”