CLAYTON — Clayton coach Denny Medlin’s explanation for why his team beat Wilmington Hoggard on Friday was simple and direct.
“Gary Clark,” he said, “then some Gary Clark and then a lot more Gary Clark.”
The junior scored 35 points – including the final six points in overtime – to lead the top-seeded Comets past the visiting Vikings 59-54 and into the fourth round of the 4A state playoffs.
“There’s a reason he’s an ACC player,” Hoggard coach Brett Queen said. “There’s a reason Clemson and Wake Forest are looking at him. He’s very good. He’s very hard to stop.”
The Vikings controlled the beginning of the game, jumping out to an 11-8 lead after the first quarter.
Hoggard built its lead by getting the ball inside to Trevor Singleton. Singleton had his way early and scored eight in the first quarte, but picked up a foul. Early in the second quarter, he picked up his second foul and was forced to the bench for the majority of the quarter. Two of the Vikings’ starting guards also picked up two early fouls and had to go to the bench as well.
“Basically, our starting backcourt was out for most of the second quarter,” Queen said. “So we had some kids in there who hadn’t been in those situations before, and it hurt us. Singleton being out hurts us too. We were in foul trouble, and (Clayton) wasn’t.”
Clark took over in Singleton’s absence. The junior big man had 12 at the break as the Comets (28-2) roared into the locker room with a 23-15 lead.
Singleton reestablished himself in the third quarter, but Clark continued to score as well. Both teams scored 14 points in the third – Clark had 11 – as Clayton maintained its eight-point lead headed into the fourth.
With Clayton still up eight with two minutes to go, a strange and controversial call went against the Comets and swung to momentum the Vikings’ way. Hoggard guard Joe O’Donnell drove to the basket and missed a layup. A blocking foul was called on the Clayton defender, but instead of going to the free throw line for two shots, the official counted the missed basket, and O’Donnell went to the line for a chance at a three-point play.
Medlin and the partisan Comet crowd went nuts. Medlin screamed for an explanation, and according to the coach, the official told him the ball went through the basket.
“He told me it went it,” Medlin said. “I don’t know. It didn’t go in, but he said it did. It was just one of many obstacles we had to overcome. Good teams have to overcome adversity. Hoggard was the biggest obstacle.”
The basket counted, but O’Donnell missed the free throw. It worked in the Vikings’ favor though, as they grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it out to O’Donnell, who knocked down an open three. When all was said and done, the five-point possession had pulled Hoggard (18-9) to within three at 45-42.
Singleton tied the score at 45 with 49 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Clark answered with a bucket to put the Comets back in front, but Singleton came right back and scored off an offensive rebound to tie the game at 47. Clayton missed a shot at the buzzer.
O’Donnell was big in the extra period for the Vikings, scoring all seven of their points, but Clark again was too much. The Comets fed him the ball on nearly every possession, and he continued to get fouled. In overtime, he was automatic from the free throw line.
Clark made his final eight foul shots – after being 3-for-10 from the line to start the game – to seal the win.
Clayton now moves into the East Regional semifinals – the state playoffs round of eight – and will face No. 3 seed Fayetteville Seventy-First, which knocked off second-seeded Hoke County 53-52 on Friday.
“We’re real excited,” Medlin said. “And fortunately, (our players) have the mentality that we’re not done. We’re excited, but we want to keep going.”