Early in Friday’s game, Gary Clark became the most prolific scorer in the history of Clayton High School basketball.
Late in the game, he showed why.
On the night Clark broke the school’s scoring record, the Comets shook off some rust and scratched out a 63-54 win over Harnett Central in the Greater Neuse River Conference opener for both teams. The win lifted Clayton to 7-1 overall and 1-0 in conference play.
The Comets trailed for most of the first half, found themselves down by eight points midway through the third quarter and were still behind 54-53 with three minutes left. But then Clark, a 6-8 forward who’s committed to Cincinnati, put the game on his shoulders.
Clark scored eight unanswered points over the next two minutes, capped off by an emphatic two-handed slam, and Clayton held the Trojans scoreless over the final three minutes to finish the game on a 10-0 run. The loss dropped Harnett Central to 3-5 overall and 0-1 in conference play.
“It just goes to prove that winning isn’t easy,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “I thought our guys thought it was going to be easier than it was. Harnett Central played great. I’m glad they did what they had to do in the last three minutes to get the win.”
The final run was the second time the momentum swung heavily in Clayton’s favor. The Comets trailed 38-30 with five minutes left in the third quarter before ripping off a 12-0 run sparked by back-to-back three pointers by Dawson Medlin. Clayton would carry that lead until the five minute mark of the fourth quarter, when the Trojans regained command with back-to-back threes of their own by Anthony Staton, who led all scorers with 21 points.
That was when Clark took charge, both in the paint and in the huddle.
“We really hold each other accountable,” Clark said. “I kind of snapped, and everyone kind of came together, and we started getting stops.”
“Gary picked it up and started protecting the rim for us in the second half, started blocking a lot of shots,” Medlin said.
With his first basket of the game, Clark scored his 1,781st career point to break the school scoring record, and he accomplished it in unusual fashion. The game was a “silent night” for the Clayton fans, who were asked not to make any noise until the Comets scored their 12th point of the game. The night marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Hogan Teem, a baseball player who wore number 12.
So with the student section seated and still, Clark pocketed his miletone basket, a layup to tie the game at 6-6, but the gym remained eerily silent. It wasn’t until Clark hit a baseline jumper for the 12th and 13th points that Clayton fans let their presence be known.
“It means a lot growing up in Clayton and coming to games,” Clark said of the record, previously held by Mack Montgomery (class of 2004). “I never had the luxury of watching Mack play, but he and I have a really good relationship. His dad coached me when I was like 7, so I remember hanging out with Mack a lot. It means a lot.”