SMITHFIELD — The Clayton boys basketball team moved to 6-0 on the season with a 76-60 road win against Smithfield-Selma fueled by another dominating performance from senior standout Gary Clark.
Clark finished his night with 30 points and 11 rebounds, including an 18-point outburst in the second quarter that turned a tie game into a double-digit lead for the Comets by halftime.
After falling behind by as many as 19 points early in the second half, the Spartans twice reduced the lead to eight points thanks to a huge second half showing from point guard Jeffrey David but could never claw any closer.
Turning point: Clayton held a 19-point lead midway through the third quarter after Clark connected on a pair of free throws.
However, the Spartans put together a 15-4 run to get to within 54-46 in the final moments of the third quarter before the Comets’ Jake Turner hit a three-pointer with two seconds left to grab momentum back and give Clayton a double-digit lead entering the game’s final quarter.
Turner finished the game with 11 points.
What worked: Clayton’s full court press resulted in five Smithfield-Selma turnovers over the final four-plus minutes of the second quarter and fueled a key 21-7 run that led to the Comets’ 14 point halftime lead.
“I thought what was huge in the second quarter was that we brought five guys in off the bench and started pressing and really got the tempo in our favor,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “We extended our lead with those guys in the game pressing.”
With the Comets dictating the pace of the game, Clark and company thrived.
Clayton’s Chris Dixon was the third Comet to reach double figures with 12 points.
For Smithfield-Selma (2-6), junior guard Jeffrey David did a great job at running the Spartans’ half court offense and took advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves to the tune of 24 points. David also added 13 rebounds.
Crisp ball movement led to more openings for the likes of Quantez Leach (14 points), Zay Best (nine points), and Tony Hobbs (8).
What didn’t work: Smithfield-Selma’s difficulty in breaking the Clayton full court pressure in the second quarter was a key component to the big run the Comets used to end the half.
The turnovers were especially perplexing to Smithfield-Selma coach James Robinson whose Spartans were a game removed from handling a similar Leesville Road press very well en route to a victory.
“We sort of got rattled, we got away from what we worked on in practice and what we can do,” Robinson said. “I think you take that spurt away and we’re in good shape.”
Highlight reel: If Clayton’s Gary Clark had not already been offered and accepted a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati, the Comets could have just submitted footage from the second quarter to interested schools and the offers would start flooding in.
Clark displayed his range in hitting four of five 3-pointers in the second quarter, displayed his strength with a two-handed dunk in traffic, and demonstrated his handling skills as he led a fast break down the court at one point which resulted in a Clayton score.
“Gary shot the ball so well,” said Medlin. “He’s so hard to guard on the inside, it’s got to be frustrating for an opposing team when he steps out and hits three or four threes so that was big for us in the second quarter.”
Best quote: “At the beginning of the season, a lot of people, including myself, expected a lot out of us,” Denny Medlin said. “They expected a lot out of us fast but we’ve got to forget about last year’s team because we’re not last year’s team. We’ve got to do the things it takes to be good and we’re not there yet.”