WENDELL — East Wake’s strategy was pretty clear against Clayton on Friday – keep a steady tempo and keep tabs on Comets star Gary Clark.
The plan worked and helped the Warriors build a small lead in the first half. But Clayton thrived by adjusting its own pace in the second half and came out on top, 47-40, to remain undefeated in Greater Neuse River 4A Conference play.
It marked a regular-season sweep of East Wake for the Comets, who won both meetings by the same margin. Clayton coach Denny Medlin said he fully expected another test from East Wake.
“They’re a really good team, it was close last time and I knew we were at their place,” Medlin said. “I knew it would be a tough game, and it was, but we’ve got seasoned veterans in tough games and smart players. They know how to manage the game at the end and they don’t get rattled when things don’t go well.
“I’m real proud of them for going on the road and picking up a real tough win.”
Medlin said his team did the worst thing possible – shoot too quickly – while East Wake purposely slowed its possessions early on.
“We were on offense for three or four seconds, and they were on offense for a couple minutes,” he said. “We had to become more patient and make sure we were efficient on offense in order to get a lead so (East Wake) couldn’t hold the ball.”
Clayton (18-3, 11-0 GNRC) led 10-8 after one quarter but trailed 20-17 at the half. East Wake (13-7, 6-5) had held the ball for the final minute of the second quarter before Paschal Ammons found himself in the right place at the right time to score with 1.4 seconds left. He drew a foul on the play and also made the free throw to send the Warriors into the locker room on a positive note.
Clark and Chris Dixon (18), the only Clayton players to score in the first half, opened the third period with 7 unanswered points. A Dawson Medlin lay-in ended Clayton’s 11-0 run to an 8-point lead.
The Warriors got two baskets from Nick Cook, who led his team with 11 points, as they scored the first 8 points of the final frame and tied the game at 38-all. But Clark (game-high 21 points) and Dixon (18) ended the game much like they had started things, scoring all 9 points for Clayton down the stretch.
East Wake got the ball in the hands of go-to player Quincy Jackson with 52 seconds to play and Clayton up 43-40, but Jackson picked up a fourth foul instead of a tying basket. With 40 seconds left, Clark ran the length of the court and scored on a put-back of his own shot to put the game on ice.
“I thought we competed well, but didn’t rotate back on defense too well,” East Wake coach Darrin Stinson said. “We gave up two or three lay-ups there at the end and that was it. We just let it slide.”
Stinson was at the center of what nearly became a physical altercation with 14 seconds left to play. Clayton fans were unhappy with the way Stinson stopped one of their own from parading in front of the East Wake bench, gloating over what seemed like a likely win for the Comets.
“I wasn’t trying to hurt the kid or nothing, I just wanted him off the court because (the Comets) were getting ready to shoot a one-and-one,” Stinson said. “I mean, he could have went behind me or whatever, but they’re getting ready to shoot a one-and-one and he’s on the court just out of disrespect and talking to my bench.”
Both teams were subsequently issued technical fouls for leaving their benches. Once control was re-established, Dixon finished off the game from the line.
Nahjuwan Potts added 10 points for East Wake and Ammons had 9. Clayton held Jackson, the Warriors’ top scorer with 16.1 points per game, to 4 points.
Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews