KNIGHTDALE — Clayton’s Gary Clark stuck to his usual offensive role in Friday’s 73-65 win over Knightdale, leading all scorers with 28 points.
But it was Clayton’s No. 2 scorer this season, Anthony Gaskins, who provided the final push the Comets needed to secure a share of the Greater Neuse River 4A regular season title alongside Garner.
“We’re going to go into this weekend and get ready for the conference tournament, but right now I’m just proud,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “These guys are taking a share of our first conference championship since 2008. Winning isn’t easy, so right now we’re just going to enjoy having it.”
For Knightdale (13-10, 7-7 Greater Neuse), the loss caused no real surprises in seeding for this week’s conference tournament. Even if the Knights won and No. 3 Southeast Raleigh lost Friday, Knightdale coach Battle Watkins knew his team would be the league’s No. 4, and that the Knights would meet their highway rival, No. 5 East Wake, in the first round of the conference tournament Tuesday.
Clayton (22-2, 13-1) and Garner held a drawing to settle their matching league records, and Garner came out on top. The No. 2 designation gave Clayton the honor of hosting its first-round tournament game against Smithfield-Selma.
Turning point: Gaskins showed why he averages nearly 19 points a game as he scored 21 points in the fourth quarter alone to help the Comets stretch out a 66-48 lead with 3:50 left in the game. His points came quick, too, as he strung together five consecutive 3-point makes.
“I didn’t shoot too well in the first half and I just came out and retaliated in the second half,” said Gaskins, who finished the game with 24 points. “Coach told us we needed to come out strong in the second half and that’s what we did.”
Knightdale answered with a 8-1 run punctuated by a 3-pointer by Ronshad Allen-Shabazz, who led the Knights with 20 points. By the 1:17 mark, Knightdale had pulled within 67-56, but the Comets held off a scrappy final minute of play by the Knights.
“We just didn’t score enough to win,” Watkins said. “I don’t remember any of us sticking out offensively, but the Gaskins kiss did for them, and that was the difference in the game.”
Best quote: Medlin said Gaskins’ 21 points in the fourth quarter, complimenting Clayton’s 33 total points in the final frame, were a big sigh of relief considering Knightdale also hit the 30-point mark in the fourth.
“He did it at the right time, because I’m getting older, but that’s not why my hair is turning gray,” Medlin said. “It’s because we scored 33 points in the fourth quarter and didn’t pull away. (Knightdale) doesn’t quit. They’re not going to quit.”
Highlight reel: Inside the one-minute mark in the third quarter, Clark threw a shot attempt by Allen-Shabazz that more or less dropped jaws on both sides of the gym.
The ball was chucked hard enough to hit the vehicles parked outside if not for the glass wall it ricocheted off of on the far side of the gym.
Clark attempted another big block on Allen-Shabazz in the final seconds of the third, but was called for goal tending.
Going forward: Watkins was understandably displeased with a loss to end the regular season, but he said it wasn’t the end of the world for the Knights, who have had trouble finishing strong this season.
“Obviously they’re at a boiling point, not being able to win close games against good teams down the stretch,” Watkins said of his players. “But this is a resilient team, like I’ve said before.
“It doesn’t make or break our season. We’re still in the playoffs and still have the ability to try and win the conference tournament.”
Medlin considers every game in the conference tournament and beyond a new season.
“We’re going to control what we can control,” Medlin said before Clayton and Garner drew for the top seed in the league tournament. “If Garner wins the draw, we’ll still have a home game Tuesday and have to win that one first.”