Clinton traveled to Jacksonville on Friday night to face Southwest Onslow in the third round of the state playoffs. The Dark Horses broke from the gates quickly, taking a 6-0 lead, and forced the home team to burn a timeout with 6:13 left in the first quarter. The Stallions came out of the timeout and patiently whittled into the Dark Horse lead hitting a three pointer from the corner with :26 left in the quarter to take a 20-18 lead, their first lead of the game.
The second quarter saw the home team open a brief lead as Clinton scrambled to stay close. Clinton took the lead away from the home team,27-26, at the 4:34 mark when Thaxter Spruill executed a nice give and go from the high post, passing to a cutting JC Evans for an easy layup. Southwest Onslow quickly turned the tide, hitting two consecutive three pointers to start a 17-6 scoring run in the final 4:30 of the half, propelling them to a 43-33 lead at the half.
The opening minutes of the third quarter saw much of the same with the home team raining two quick threes to extend their lead to 50-35 midway through the third. After a quick timeout Clinton regrouped and cut into the Stallions lead with a Jalen Banks three-pointer at the 3:38 mark and then after turning the home team over on the next possession, Michael Boykin found his way deep into the paint drawing a foul and converting on a 3-point play the hard way.
O J Jones made a fine defensive play at the 1:11 mark, tying up a Stallion ball handler near mid-court, forcing a held ball to turn possession over to the Dark Horses. Clinton capitalized on Jones’ hustle play with J C Evans connecting on two free throws to pull the Horses within five at 56-51 with :42 left in the third frame. The Dark Horses failed to score on their final two possessions of the third quarter while the Stallions scored two more buckets to push the lead to 60-51 at the end of the third.
The two teams spent the fourth quarter swapping baskets with the home team maintaining an 8 to 10 point spread for much of the quarter. The Dark Horses extended the game by fouling the Stallions over the final two minutes. The strategy proved to be futile as the home team paraded to the free throw line and hit most of the charity shots keeping the Dark Horses at bay. The game ended with Michael Boykin hitting a three-pointer to trim the final margin to 7 points at 86-79.
Jalen Banks led the Clinton scoring with 18 points, J C Evans posted 16 points, Thaxter Spruill added 14 and Michael Boykin netted 10 to round out the double digit scorers for the Dark Horses.
It was a great season for the Dark Horses. It included a conference championship for the regular season and a conference tournament championship. Although it is hard for them to see right now, the Dark Horses will have to look at this season as a successful one, and a step in the right direction for Clinton basketball.