WARREN – It was King Garner being King Garner.
The senior guard for the Warren G. Harding Raiders might not wow anyone with his scoring totals, but if you’re looking for the total package, there’s no better present under the Christmas tree than Garner’s style of play.
Garner sure put a smile on the face of Raiders coach Andy Vlajkovich in the final seconds of Harding’s 53-51 win over the Canton McKinley Bulldogs on Saturday. Moments after the Bulldogs came up with a steal with the score tied at 51, Garner held his ground and pilfered an outlet pass near the 3-point line.
Garner was then fouled on a drive to the basket. He made both free throws to give the Raiders a bounce-back win one day after losing to Lorain by two points.
“I just saw his eyes up. He was looking to throw it deep,” Garner said. “I was just trying to make him throw a bad pass. I felt the ball hit my hand and tried to go make a layup.”
Vlajkovich was far from surprised that Garner made the biggest play of the game. It’s almost as if he expected it to happen.
“He had 12 (points), but every big steal, key rebounds, made those two clutch free throws; he scores at the right time loose balls,” Vlajkovich said. “He’s so much better than any statistical thing you can say. I know that’s a cliche in coaching, but that kid is a big reason why we won the game.”
Vlajkovich wasn’t sure what to expect the night after a 58-56 road loss. What he got was a sloppy game in which the teams combined for 47 turnovers 25 by the Bulldogs (4-6) and 22 by the Raiders (6-3). Harding did a poor job of time management working with a lead as large as seven points in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Bulldogs a chance to tie the score and then have a chance at possibly taking a potential game-winning shot.
“Last night (against) Lorain there were 20 free throws shot total for the game,” Vlajkovich said. “There were very few turnovers. The game had rhythm. It was over at like 8:45. Tonight was the complete opposite.”
Garner led a balanced scoring effort by the Raiders, saving eight points for the fourth quarter. Anthony Bell, Shondell Jackson and Jarelle Johnson each had 11 points.
Garner’s value came in other areas. He had a team high in rebounds (six), assists (six) and steals (eight).
“I just try to be a leader out there,” Garner said. “Rebounds, getting steals, assists. Do whatever my team needs. Sometimes it’s not always scoring points.”
The Bulldogs had a 15-12 lead after the opening period and led 23-19 at halftime. McKinley twice opened leads of eight points in the third quarter before settling on a 38-33 lead entering the final period.
The Raiders came out strong in the fourth session, scoring nine of the first 11 points. After a fielder by Marcellius Pittman of the Bulldogs, consecutive field goals by Shakem Johnson and Jackson, followed by one free throw by Jackson and two free throws by Garner extended Harding’s lead to 49-42.
The Bulldogs began chipping away at the lead. Jalen Olds, who scored a game-high 19 points, scored seven points during a 9-2 run that tied the score.
Harding is at Cleveland Heights Tuesday.