BENSON — The Clayton boys and girls basketball teams both braved the elements and went on the road to face Greater Neuse River Conference foe West Johnston Friday night.
As the rain fell in buckets outside making for treacherous driving on the roads, both Comet teams were able to withstand some added troubles inside for a pair of wins to make the road trip worth it.
The girls built an eight-point halftime lead and hung on for a 50-44 win over the pesky Wildcats while the boys team pulled away for a 67-46 victory on the strength of yet another outstanding performance from Gary Clark as the senior standout posted a quadruple-double.
Clayton’s Gary Clark can beat teams in many different ways and pretty much all of those ways were on full display against the Wildcats as the University of Cincinnati recruit totaled 22 points, 21 rebounds, 15 blocked shots and 10 assists.
Clark needed to assert himself as West Johnston hung tough and stayed with the Comets for the first two-and-a-half quarters.
After the first of three Ryne Turner’s three pointers dropped midway through the third quarter, Clayton held just a 37-33 lead but, with Clark leading the way, the Comets stretched their lead thanks to a 26-5 run over the next eight minutes of play.
Clark scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half.
“We were able to get out in transition when we got defensive stops and he’s really tough in transition,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said of Clark’s dominance in the second half. “People think about stopping him in the halfcourt but it’s probably easier to stop him in the halfcourt than it is in transition.
“I thought Tre Armstead did a great job getting the ball out in transition and he really pushed the ball.”
Armstead finished the night with 17 points while Austin Wolfe was the other Comet in double figures with 10 points.
West Johnston (4-10, 1-5) received a stellar performance from junior center Scott Chestnutt who came off the bench and provided 11 points, four rebounds and a presence close to the basket.
Chestnutt’s contributions in the paint, along with Turner’s 11 points on three-of-four shooting from the perimeter and Cameron Williams’ 10 points helped keep the game tight for the first 20 minutes.
“We’ve played hard just about every game.” West Johnston Coach Kris Bennett said. “We can put two-and-a-half to three quarters together most nights. If we can finally put that fourth quarter out there, that’s going to tighten the games up.”
Clayton remained unbeaten in the conference with the win and improved to 13-3 on the season with a 6-0 mark in the GNRC.
Comets hang on
Despite netting an important conference victory, on the road no less, Clayton Coach Marlon Lee had mixed emotions following his team’s six-point victory.
After building a 15-point lead in the second quarter, the Comets needed every bit of it and a pair of steals in the final 30 seconds to secure the win and move to 12-4 on the season.
“I almost feel like we lost because of some of the things that we didn’t execute both defensively and offensively,” said Lee. “But the scoreboard was in favor.”
West Johnston (8-6, 2-4) had the ball with 28 seconds left and a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer only to turn the ball over as the Comets surprised the Wildcats and extended their three-quarter court press to full-court on the inbound pass.
Taisha Murphy stole the ball and made one of two free throws to give the Comets a two-possession lead before repeating the same feat the very next time West Johnston attempted to move the ball up the court and this time iced the game with a pair of free throws.
“We threw the ball away a couple times when we shouldn’t have,” admitted West Johnston coach Bill Pepicello. “But we’re going to get better and we’re going to learn from it.”
Murphy led the Comets with 21 points, including seven in the final quarter. Amber Caudle helped stake Clayton to the huge first half lead thanks to 12 of her 13 points coming over the first 16 minutes of play.
The Wildcats were stymied by the Comets’ trapping defense the entire first half. West solved the riddle in the third quarter, however, limited its turnovers to just two, and started to chip away at the lead.
Tanay Smith was fearless and led the Wildcats with 16 points and seven rebounds. Jarmeia Holder added 14 points for West, who had to trim its regular rotation of players to six due to injuries.
“It was a great game,” said Pepicello. “If you didn’t enjoy it, there’s something wrong with you. Our kids played hard and we’ll take it from there.”
Smith tied the game at 36-36 in the third quarter and then again at 42 in the fourth quarter before Murphy sealed the game down the stretch.