CLAYTON — Clayton has seen so much of the box-and-one defense that it’s almost a surprise when teams don’t come out with it. So when conference rival Garner opened Thursday night’s early-season Greater Neuse River 4A Conference clash between the two teams that shared the regular season conference title last year, the Comets knew just what to do.
Clayton bombed away from behind the 3-point arch on the way to a 20-point first quarter and – after several momentum swings – a 73-68 victory.
“That’s probably the sixth or seventh team we’ve played this year that’s used a box-and-one type defense against Gary,” said Clayton coach Denny Medlin. “So we know what to do against it for the most part. We can end up with a lot of open shots if we move the ball.”
The win caps a tough week for the Comets, which beat Garner for the third straight time, with a perfect league record intact at 3-0.
“This was a big week for us and I was really concerned about how we were playing coming into this week,” Medlin said. “But we really came through. I think the biggest difference is that we started five guys who got a lot of playing time last year in games like these.”
The Comets (9-1 overall) needed that experience to counter Garner’s scoring runs. The Trojans went on a 3-point barrage of their own in the second quarter to pull ahead 30-25 on a Julius Barnes’ three-point play with 3:16 to play in the quarter. The Trojans (4-4, 2-1) led 37-34 at the half.
Clayton held Garner scoreless for the first half of the third quarter and started to find ways to get standout forward Gary Clark – the target of all that special defensive attention – while getting timely scoring contributions across the board.
After keeping Clark, a University of Cincinnati signee, from dominating the game for a half, the Trojans couldn’t avoid one-on-one situations against the 6-foot-8 talent in the second half. And as usual, Clark took advantage of nearly every one of those chances.
He finished with 33 points, 18 of those in the second half.
“We wanted to spread them out with our guards on the offensive end and as long as we had a lead we could do that,” said Garner coach Eddie Gray. “We just don’t have anybody who can physically match up with Clark. So we had to try to find ways to offset that.
“In the second half, we got behind and had to change our defensive game plan and that played to their strength.”
Chris Dixon had a solid night on the boards for Clayton and added 19 points, while Jake Turner added nine points.
“We just want to take what the defense gives us,” Medlin said. “They took Gary away at times but he has to score for us. We’re not a team this year where somebody else is likely to score 20 points. We’re more likely to have four guys with nine points.”
Smith led Garner with 18, while Barnes added 16 and Kyrece Mills went for a dozen.
Both teams will play in the Holiday Invitational beginning Dec. 26 in Raleigh.
Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest