CLAYTON — Durham Hillside’s strategy in its second-round game against Clayton in the Class 4A boys basketball playoffs was to make someone other than Comets star Gary Clark beat them.
That someone turned out to be Chris Dixon.
With the Hornets hounding Clark with a box-and-one defense, Dixon poured in a game-high 23 points to lead the Comets to a 73-62 victory Wednesday night.
The Comets (22-4) advanced to a third-round meeting with Broughton Friday night.
“All year we’ve tried to take what the defense gives us,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “They tried to take away Gary, and Chris Dixon got 23 points and Tre Amstead got 12. Gary still managed to get 22 and Kevin (Jones) got nine.
“If we have other guys in the scoring column like that, we are going to score a lot of points because Gary is still going to score a bunch.”
Clark had a defender on him at all times and was often double-teamed, limiting his ability to get open for entry passes into the post. He worked hard to score his 22 points, grabbing offensive rebounds and making free throws – and was still a huge factor in the game with 18 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
Clark, a 6-foot-8 senior forward who is headed to Cincinnati, had five blocked shots during a two-minute stretch late in the fourth quarter. On one Hillside possession, Clark blocked two straight shots by Hillside’s Malik Evans, swatting the first shot back to Evans and then blocking a second shot and grabbing the ball himself.
“I thought we did a good job defensively on (Clark) and the goal coming in was to make somebody else beat us,” Hillside coach Crasten Davis said. “No. 12 (Dixon) had a big game for them. … Clark may have not had his normal offensive game, but he surely changed the game in the fourth quarter with the blocked shots.”
Robert Robinson Jr. and Evans had 16 points each to lead Hillside (16-12) and Justice Kithcart added 14.
The Hornets trailed 21-13 at the end of the first period, but pulled within 36-34 by halftime and led 37-36 after a 3-pointer on their first possession of the second half.
With the Comets down 44-42 with 4:47 left in the third period, Dixon, a senior guard, stepped up. He made an inside basket to tie the score, hit a free throw and then drove the lane and dunked to put Clayton up 47-46 with 2:06 left in the third quarter.
The Comets never trailed again.
“I was just trying to see how they were playing Gary and worked off that,” Dixon said. “It felt good to help him out, put up points so he wouldn’t have to work so hard. I felt like we did a good job tonight.”
Clark said it was frustrating at times, but he was happy to see his teammates step up.
“They me pinned down and I was telling Chris and Tre they had to attack more,” Clark said. “At times, it was frustrating. Chris and Tre stepped up to the plate and attacked.”
The Comets made it to the fourth round of the playoffs a year. Clark, one of four senior starters for the Comets, has his sights set on more in his final high school season.
“Last year was a tough loss in the fourth round,” Clark said. “We plan on getting there and going further.”
Medlin liked his team’s demeanor after the hard-fought win over Hillside.
“One thing that is kind of cool is that our guys didn’t seem overly excited and they weren’t celebrating a lot because I think they had the bigger picture in mind,” Medlin said. “Their goal is not just to be in the third round. They were expecting to. I like their calmness, their sense of purpose and seriousness about advancing.
“That is a good sign.”
So is the way Dixon and Armstead stepped up when the Hornets tried to put the clamps on Clark.