RALEIGH — Clayton’s trip to the 42nd annual Holiday Invitational boys basketball tournament in Raleigh brought three different lessons for the Comets.
The first night was an exercise in humility as Orlando Lake Highland Prep rolled to a 73-45 victory before a near capacity crowd of 3,500 at Holiday Gymnasium on the campus of Broughton High School. The second night brought the kind of comeback effort any team would like to have – a convincing but not easy 77-64 decision over a Moss Point (Miss.) squad featuring Kentucky recruit Devin Booker.
And Saturday’s meeting with Broughton – a 67-61 loss for the Comets – was a matchup between two teams that qualified for the 4A eastern regionals last season and look like candidates to possibly be there again.
Clayton fell behind 8-1 and churned away against Broughton to take a temporary 27-26 lead late in the first half. The Comets (10-3) stayed a couple of possessions of getting the lead back against the Caps (9-2) but untimely offensive mistakes at the wrong time kept the win out of reach.
“I felt like the story of the day was we had far too many empty offensive possessions,” said Clayton coach Denny Medlin. “And we had 12 turnovers, which is uncharacteristic for us. We didn’t move the ball, reversing it like we want to, nearly as well as we need to.”
Broughton made coming back even tougher by hitting 17-of-19 free throws on the afternoon.
“One of our main issues (against Broughton) was we saw that what was our best defensive lineup wasn’t the best offensive lineup and vice versa,” said Clayton coach Denny Medlin. “Going forward, that shows us we’ve got to get the guys who are good on defense better handling the ball on offense and the guys who are good on offense better doing the things we do on the defensive end.”
Cincinnati recruit Gary Clark of Clayton finished the tournament with 49 rebounds, which tied him for fourth most in the 42-year history of the event with former Maryland and NBA all-star Buck Williams. Williams went onto finish his career as the 13th leading rebounder in NBA history. Clark totaled 34 points against Broughton.
“We did everything we could do to try to stop Gary Clark,” said Broughton coach Jeff Ferrell. “And I thought we did about as good a job as could be done.”
Clark averaged 27.67 points a game in the tournament. His 14-point total in the opener against Lake Highland was just one sign of the kind of night it was for Clayton in their tournament-opening match up.
“Every game you can play in a setting like that, the more you get used to the setting,” Medlin said of the Comets’ tournament opening 73-45 to Lake Highland Prep on Dec. 26. “If we had shot the ball well, we could have been in it. Because we didn’t turn the ball over as much.”
His 35-point, 22-rebound effort against Moss Point was a sign that Clayton was doing the things it needs to do to win games.
“I really liked the composure we showed coming back out after a tough loss,” Medlin said. “I thought we did a good job defensively against a great player in Booker.”
Clayton returns to the normal flow of the season with a trip to first-year school Rolesville on Friday (Jan. 3), looking to defend its Greater Neuse River 4A Conference title.
To reach that championship goal, Clayton will need to build on its experiences.
“We learned that to be successful we have to come to every game like we did against Knighdale and Garner (the Comets’ last two wins before Christmas),” Clark said. “We really played like we could play in those games.
“From here, we just have to look at the film, learn from it and see the things we need to do to get rid of those turnovers.”
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