CLAYTON — Clayton proved it knows more than one way to win in its boys’ 4A sectional final Friday night.
Going against one of the stingiest defenses the Comets have faced all season, they responded with a balanced scoring effort.
With 6-8 Cincinnati-bound center Gary Clark scoring 15 points with 15 rebounds, classmate Chris Dixon and sophomore guard Tre Armstead also added 15 points apiece in a convincing 61-51 win over visiting Broughton.
The win in front of a packed house avenged an earlier loss. Broughton had won the teams’ regular-season meeting 67-61 on Dec. 28 in the fifth-place game of the Holiday Invitational at Holliday Gym.
Clayton (23-4) advanced to the Eastern semifinals against Apex on Friday night at Fayetteville’s Crown Coliseum. The Caps, who were state runners-up last season, finished 21-7.
“The first time we played them was a consolation game in the middle of the day, and I don’t think that game was a measure of how good either team was,” said Clayton coach Denny Medlin, whose team was eliminated in the regional semifinals last season. “And the atmosphere was totally different.
“Tonight we got better defensively in the third quarter. We got out in the passing lanes, made sure they couldn’t feed the post in that high-low and were forcing back-cuts. We really played well. Gary was back on defense and protecting the rim and was rebounding well. I’m just real proud of my guys. Jake Turner did a great job guarding Cam Gottfried, and that’s something that doesn’t shot up in the stats.”
Siena-bound senior guard Cam Gottfried, whose father Mark is head coach at N.C. State, was the only Broughton player in double figures with 15 points.
“At times we played really well,” Broughton coach Jeff Ferrell said. “We increased our lead early in the second half and were feeling really good about ourselves, and then they went on a big run to end the third quarter.
“It was a combination of a lot of things. Clayton attacked the basket very well and finished some shots. Gary is everything everybody always said he is.”
The Caps led 28-25 at halftime behind seven points from Gottfried. Clark had eight for Clayton.
There were five ties and three lead changes in the half, with Clark scoring the final points on a three-point play at the buzzer.
The Comets took over when they outscored the visitors 23-8 in the third quarter without Clark tallying a point in the period.
“Broughton plays great defense,” Clark said. “But we got great guard play tonight. The other guys did a great job finishing around the rim and showed a lot of patience.
“At halftime I said it was our last time playing in Clayton’s gym and how they wanted to finish it. And the guys really stepped up.”
Broughton was up 32-25 following a Gottfried layup with 6:38 to go before Clayton went on a 17-2 run. It was 48-36 after three periods and Clayton stretched the margin to 17 twice in the fourth – 57-40 on a Kevin Jones layup with 3:35 left and 61-44 on an Armistead jumper at the 1:09 mark.
“We didn’t play as well as we could tonight,” Gottfried said. “Obviously give credit to Clayton. They’re a great team. But we didn’t play up to the potential they’ve shown the past two weeks.
“They just got on a run in the middle of the third quarter and didn’t stop. Offensively we weren’t in tune and as focused as we could have been.”
Dixon said he’s just happy to be going back to the regional in his senior season.
“It was a big emphasis to help Gary out and score in other ways,” Dixon said. “When they doubled up on Gary we just had to find other ways to score and we found them. It feels good to go back to Fayetteville.”
Armistead said he loved the balanced scoring effort.
“We stepped up our defense in the third quarter and really got it done, too,” Armistead said. “They were the best team we’d played all year, but we’re going to the regional.”