APEX — As they sauntered back onto the court, Apex boys basketball teammates T.J. Evans, T.J. Wells and Ian Boyd couldn’t help but smile at John Kitoko. The junior’s 3-point barrage in the third quarter had forced a Middle Creek time out.
And through his career day, the Cougars snapped out of a season-long funk from beyond the arc.
Apex took a 80-62 win to jumpstart Southwest Wake Athletic Conference play against the Mustangs (4-4, 0-1). Kitoko was 5-of-5 from 3-point range. Apex (3-4, 1-0) had been shooting 22 percent as a team in its previous six games.
“Everybody was cheering (after the game). It was about time,” Kitoko said. “Everybody shot a good percentage and everybody just played their game. We shared the ball and played as a team. And our chemistry was clicking.”
What worked: Apex snapped out of its shooting struggles by attacking the rim repeatedly.
Evans and Wells got into the lane, where they could kick it out, dish it off or go up with it.
“I thought we did a great job attacking their full-court pressure. A lot of time it ended up in T.J. Evans’ hands instead of T.J. Wells’ and (Evans) did an awesome job of getting in the lane,” Apex coach David Neal said. “I think we’re a good shooting team, and we finally showed it tonight. We’re seven games into the season, and this is really the first time we’ve shot well from the arc.”
The team led going into halftime 38-31, which was a welcomed change from when it scored in the 40s in four of its games.
Needs improvement: Mustangs coach David Kushner wanted a better defensive effort.
“Once (Apex) got some confidence, they really got rolling. They’re a very good team. They hadn’t been playing like it, but our effort tonight I thought we gave them all the confidence they needed,” Kushner said. “We didn’t match their intensity at all.”
Early turnovers also set the stage.
“We had a game plan that we practiced, and the second things didn’t go the way we practiced, that game plan went out the window. And that goes for offense and defense,” Kushner said.
Out of bounds: Apex had its own “Silent Night” game, but instead of the crowd waiting to cheer until after its 10th point, it did so on the first Cougars basket of the second quarter.
Boyd didn’t make them wait long, hitting a 3-pointer quickly after the period began.
And as Silent Night games are wont to do, it led to a Middle Creek turnover on the very next play.
Putting up numbers: For the first time this year Apex had four players in double figures – Boyd (13), Kitoko (21), Jones (11) and Evans, who led all scorers with 28.
Middle Creek’s bright spot was Fred Iruafemi. The 6-foot-7 center scored 19 points on just nine shots. Iruafemi also had 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Bryson Cousins added 13 in the losing effort.
Best quote: “We’ve taken some lumps, and I don’t think these guys thought they were going to take lumps,” Neal said.
Looking forward: Middle Creek has Green Hope at home on Thursday, and Apex is at Fuquay-Varina. Both are the last SWAC games before winter break.