Cary outlasts Middle Creek in SWAC semi-final, 80-69
Posted February 16
Apex, N.C. — Cary senior guard Donte Tatum scored 29 points to lead the Imps past Middle Creek, 80-68, Wednesday night at Apex Friendship High School to clinch a spot in the Southwest Wake Conference title game.
The Imps tallied its ninth-straight victory to set a title-game matchup with Green Hope, who Cary swept this season in two regular season games.
“I told the team that they had something last year’s team didn’t get to – win a regular season conference championship and tournament championship,” said Cary head coach Allan Gustafson. “Apex beat us last year, but we have an opportunity to win in this year, so we’re excited about Friday.”
After a 26-5 run over the first eight minutes of action Wednesday night, it looked like the Imps would cruise to the championship game.
Sophomore guard Jett Fortuny led the way for Cary with nine first-quarter points, and senior guard Donte Tatum scored as time expired to pus the Imps’ lead to 21 points.
Despite the early hole, Middle Creek answered to outscore Cary over the final three quarters, 64-54, but the first-quarter deficit was ultimately too large to overcome for the Mustangs.
Mustangs’ senior D.J. Jackson led Middle Creek with 14 of his 16 points in the first half but left many points at the free throw line. Jackson made only two of his 10 attempts at the charity stripe.
Cary led by 25 points in the second frame, but the Mustangs chipped away over the final two quarters to cut the Imps’ lead to only eight points with three minutes to play.
“When you’re losing bit, it’s like you don’t have a lot to lose, so you’re going to play more relaxed, lay it all out on the line,” Gustafson said. “You have a tendency with a big lead to start tightening up a little bit and playing more conservative and less aggressive. I think the combination of those two things made the game very close.”
Middle Creek implemented full-court pressure in the second half, which gave the Imps fits, leading to multiple turnovers and fast-break layups during the Mustangs’ run.
Senior Shammond Hicks was the recipient of many fast-break opportunities, tallying 15 of his team-high 20 points in the second half.
Middle Creek Ryan Tankelewicz – who was held scoreless in the first half – caught fire with three triples and 13 points in the second half.
But the Imps converted on eight their last 10 free throw attempts in the final quarter Wednesday night to keep the Mustangs at bay, eventually building its lead back up to double digits to end the contest.
Tatum finished 5-of-5 from the charity stripe in the second quarter and scored nine of his game-high 29 points from the free throw line for the contest.
Cary Freshman B.J. Keith scored 19 points for the Imps, and Fortuny also finished in double figure with 18 points but was held to only four in the second half.
The Imps – winners of nine straight games – will move on to face Green Hope in SWAC tournament final Friday evening at 7:30 p.m.
“Green Hope was really able to slow the game down against Apex,” Gustafson said. “We like to play faster than Green Hope, and we like to break more.
“I think whoever is able to establish the tempo in that game will have the advantage.”