By Mike Potter
GARNER — Julius Barnes said he didn’t want his last chance to play in a regional to get by him.
The senior guard made sure it didn’t happen by taking over a game in the fourth quarter.
On a Tuesday night when coach Eddie Gray collected his 450th victory, Barnes scored 28 points – 15 during the final quarter – and backcourt mate Thomas Allen chipped in 24 as Garner topped a solid Northern Durham team 73-61 in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys’ basketball tournament.
The win, Garner’s 16th straight, propelled the Trojans (25-1) into Thursday’s Eastern Regional semifinals against South Central Pitt at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville.
Northern Durham “has an outstanding team, and we had to really go after it,” said Gray, who last had Garner in the regional in 1998. “But that’s the way it is when you play in the sectional finals. I told the kids every game they play is going to be a tougher opponent.”
The Greater Neuse River 4A champion Trojans, who also got 12 points from Jashaun Smith, won despite 28 points from Northern Durham’s 6-foot-5, East Carolina-bound senior wing Kentrell Barkley and 21 from Tahj Small.
The PAC-6 4A champion Knights finished 19-8.
“That’s a good team there, and this was a great game,” Northern Durham coach Ronnie Russell said of Garner. “We really came together when we had to this season. But their backcourt is about as good as we’ve faced.”
Northern Durham led 42-34 with 4 minutes, 34 seconds left in the third after seven straight points from Barkley. But Allen scored eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, to spark a Trojans rally before Barnes’ layup with 10 seconds left in the quarter tied the score at 52.
“This was my second (sectional final) and my last game at home,” Barnes said. “We knew coach had a chance for 450. I just wanted to have a good memory and a win and get to Fayetteville (in the tournament) for the first time.”
Garner took the lead for good when Barnes hit the first of two free throws with 7:42 to play. He hit seven of nine free throws in the final quarter.
“We just didn’t keep getting after it on defense at the end,” Barkley said. “They played physical, and we tried to play physical, too. We just slipped up on a couple of rebounds and loose balls that they got late in the game.”