GARNER — Garner avenged its worst loss of the basketball season with one of its best victories.
The Trojans rolled past the Knights 76-58 on Friday night to move into sole possession of second place in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference.
Garner (13-7, 9-2 Greater Neuse) lost to Knightdale 72-41 on Jan. 7, but has won eight straight games since.
“I’m real proud of the way this team has come together,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “We had some chemistry problems early in the season blending in the young guys with the older guys. But everybody has fallen into their roles.
“It’s been a real joy to coach. We have a great time with them in practice. Hopefully we can continue to play our best basketball in February because that’s the most important month to be playing it. I’m real proud of these guys.”
In the first meeting with Knightdale (15-5, 8-3), Garner’s guards were held scoreless, a telling statistic for a team that dependant on its backcourt.
The second meeting was the polar opposite. Gray said he challenged the group to take control of the game, and junior point Julius Barnes did just that.
Barnes, a 5-foot-8 speedster, poured in a game-high 23 points on a variety of offensive moves. Barnes was all over the court, hitting 3-pointers, penetrating for baskets, pulling up in the lane for jumpers and finding open teammates.
“It felt real good to win against a real good basketball club,” Barnes said, “and to know we have gotten better (since their first meeting). I am looking forward to our next games and to keep improving.”
Garner went on a 14-0 run in the first quarter, erasing an 8-4 deficit, and led 37-26 at halftime. Knightdale pulled within seven points, 44-37, midway through the third quarter, but Garner scored the next eight points and pushed the lead to 20 points early in the fourth period.
“It was a totally different ball team that we played tonight (from the Jan. 7 meeting),” Knightdale coach Anthony Byrd said. “You have to tip your hat to Coach Gray and their staff for getting their team ready to play.
“They beat us in every facet of the game. We didn’t shoot the ball very well, and that is one of our strengths. Once we did that, it took us out of the flow of the game.”
Ronshad Allen-Shabazz led Knightdale with 21 points, but the Knights had just one other play in double figures – Tre Fowler’s 10.
Garner, meanwhile, used balanced scoring to overwhelm the Knights.
Alex Reed, one of two freshmen in the Trojans’ starting lineup, had 10 points. Seniors Kyrece Mills and Justin Baird also had 10 points each and sophomore Jashaun Smith had nine.
The Trojans, as usual, generated a lot of offense by forcing turnovers and getting fast-break baskets off of those turnovers. The young players on the team have gotten a handle on the defense, and it has coincided with the winning streak.
“We play a lot of zone and it takes a while for the kids to understand how to box out in a zone and where the slides are,” Gray said. “It took a while for them to play a zone. They are picking up on it.”
And picking up a string of victories as a result.