KNIGHTDALE — Clayton’s Gary Clark knew he would have to assert himself for his Comets to come away with a victory on the road against a tough Knightdale team Tuesday night. Clark did just that. With authority.
The 6-foot-8 University of Cincinnati signee scored 34 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Comets to a 79-72 victory in a battle between two of the teams expected to contend for the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference title. During one second-half stretch, Clark simply took over.
With the Comets up 42-34 with five minutes left in the third quarter, Clark got the ball in the post on three of four Clayton possessions. Each time, he spun around a defender, rose above the rim and slammed it home.
After the third one, even some of the home Knights fans were on their feet – being able to recognize an amazing stretch when they saw it, even if it was by an opponent.
“Gary was the most active and determined that he has been this year and we are going to need him to stay that way,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “I thought that we executed on both ends of the floor better probably than we have most of the year, but we had to because Knightdale is a very good team. I am real proud of the guys tonight and the effort they gave.”
Clark ended the night with four dunks, adding a jaw-dropping move in the fourth quarter when he got the ball about 10 feet from the basket, dribbled, spun and elevated for another slam.
“I’ve lost to Knightdale twice since I’ve been here,” Clark said. “That’s because Knightdale is always a tough team to play against. I knew my team was going to depend on me tonight to bring out the intensity and be aggressive.”
Clark has a versatile game, being able to dribble the ball upcourt against the press at times, play on the wing and hit soft pull-up jumpers in the lane. On Tuesday, he even made three free throws after he was fouled taking a 3-pointer from the side.
But when he gets the ball down low, if the opportunity presents itself, he loves to power his way for a dunk.
“Coach doesn’t think I’m aggressive enough sometimes, thinks I’m too passive,” Clark said. “Tonight in a big game like this, I knew I had to assert myself on the offensive end. When I turn to the basket and there are no hands coming across, my intention is to go up and dunk it.”
Knightdale coach Anthony Byrd and his team simply had no answer for Clark. The Knights played physical defense against the big man, trying to keep him out of the post, but could not contain him.
“Clark caused a lot of problems for us inside,” Byrd said. “Tonight was a hard night just to defend him. He did what Clayton needed him to do. He really stepped his game up tonight and put them on his back and carried them to victory.”
Not that Clark was a one-man show. The Comets (8-1, 2-0 Greater Neuse River 4A) got 15 points from sophomore guard Tre Armstead and 10 from senior guard Jake Turner.
Knightdale (6-3, 1-1) countered Clark’s inside strength with an outside game, hitting eight 3-pointers in the game and getting 27 points from junior guard Ronshad Allen-Shabazz – 21 of those coming in the second half – and 13 points from senior guard Marcell Johnson.
“It hurt us a lot in the first half when Ronshad got his third foul and we had to sit him down,” Byrd said. “We had to sit him for most of the second quarter. We couldn’t risk a chance of him getting that fourth foul. If I had had him in there, it might have been more interesting at the end.”
Clayton led 17-12 at the end of the first quarter and was up 27-21 when Clark picked up his third foul with three minutes left in the half. With Clark on the bench, the Comets were still able to maintain their advantage getting seven points from Turner down the stretch to lead 38-27 at halftime.
The second half was showtime for Clark. And the Comets jumped on his back and rode him to victory.