CARY — Cary’s undefeated season was 13.7 seconds from going down in flames on Friday night, but senior guard C.J. Lyon pushed the Imps to 4-0 thanks to an old-fashioned three-point play.
Lyons drove to the basket and sank the layup to tie the score at 55-55. Lyons, fouled on the play, then sank the game-winning free throw with eight seconds remaining as Cary sent Charlie Adams Gymnasium into a frenzy with a 56-55 victory over Cardinal Gibbons.
“Coach called a play we call ‘Wheel,’ and it’s me on another guy, one-on-one,” Lyon said. “I just had the chance to go to the rack. I saw that he was smaller than me, so I got to the rack, finished the play – and one.
“It was quiet in the gym (for the free throw), and there was a lot of pressure on me, but I knew it was going in.”
Cary coach Allan Gustafson Jr. figured Lyon (14 points) would make the basket and get fouled.
“Before C.J. came out of the huddle, I told C.J., ‘It’s going to be an and-one, and you’re going to make the free throw,’” Gustafson said.
With Lyon isolated on Gibbons’ Blane Beason, four Imp players rotated counter-clockwise away from the play. No help came, and Lyon was able to beat Beason to the basket.
“We were supposed to bring help,” Crusader coach Marque Carrington said. “They isolated the floor. I had flashbacks as I was watching that I was watching an NBA game. They had four guys on one side, and we just stood there with them.”
That was a theme throughout the night for Gibbons.
“Cary did a really good job of attacking the rim,” said Carrington, a former Cary High star player and member of the school’s sports hall of fame. “Our man-to-man defense wasn’t what it usually is. They were really good off the ball tonight, attacking us, imposing their will on us.”
The thrilling finish capped off an improbable run for Cary, which had trailed since early in the first quarter and fell behind by as many as 13 points in the first half. The Imps cut the lead to 46-42 early in the third but stumbled again as the Crusaders jumped to 52-42 edge on a pair of Logan Bugg free throws with 4:16 remaining.
Gibbons led 55-47 with 3:10 to play but missed its last four free throws, its final two shots from the floor and committed two turnovers. Donte Tatum sealed the win with a steal of Justin Reid on the Crusaders’ final possession.
“You see that so much in sports, where a team makes a run and they get close, but they fall back,” Gustafson said. “For us to make a second run with three minutes to play is just reflective of the character of this team.”
Cory Gensler led Cary with 19 points, while Tatum had 15. Moses Romacki scored 18 for Gibbons, but only had three in the second half. Bugg and Reid added 11 for the Crusaders (3-3).
Cary girls eke out win
The Cardinal Gibbons girls’ team played a box-and-one defense for nearly the entire game, with four players in a zone and one guarding Imp center Azura Stevens. But Stevens still was able to dominate, scoring 31 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in Cary’s 61-58 victory.
That was the first time Cary saw a box-and-one this season, but Imp coach Patrick Daly expected it sooner or later.
“But I knew that was coming,” Daly said. “We’re going to see a lot of zone this year because of that. We had four days of practice, and that’s all we really worked on. We knew we were going to see a lot of zone, and we did a good job.”
The Imps (4-0) had to sweat, as Gibbons (4-2) drilled 13 3-pointers and pulled to within one, 59-58, on Maddi Beuris’ jumper with 1:05 to play. But Mallory Curtis (12 points) sank two free throws with 12 seconds left to preserve the win.
Morgan Reid had four 3s and 22 points to lead Gibbons, while Stephanie Girard had three 3s and 18 points.
“Cardinal Gibbons is really solid and a solid shooting team,” Daly said. “We knew we were going to have to play a lot of man on the other end, and they still got off their 3s. We’ve got to work on that.”