Clinton hosted Southwest Edgecombe in a first round playoff game on Tuesday. The Dark Horses used a late first half run to open up a big lead, seeming to be in control of the contest, before having to withstand a late game surge by the Cougars on the way to their way to an 84-77 first round win.
The Dark Horses roared out to an early lead, doubling up the Cougars at 16-8 before Southwest used a 6-2 run in the last 2 minutes of the first quarter to close the Clinton lead to 18-14 by the end of the opening quarter. The Cougars used a strong rebounding effort to keep the game close early on, seemingly getting several shots on each trip down court.
Clinton opened the second quarter with a 8-0 run to extend their lead to 26-14 with 6:30 left in the half. The Cougars fought back, putting a run of their own together, outscoring the Dark Horses 5-1 and cutting the lead to 27-22 with 2:22 remaining in the quarter. Clinton used a timeout, regrouped and came out with all barrels blazing. The Dark Horses used an 11-0 run over the final 2;22 of the half, that was capped by a Jeremiah Pope buzzer beater to send Clinton to the break with some breathing room at 38-22.
The teams played on even terms in the third quarter as Clinton refused to give any ground to the pesky Cougars. Once again Jeremiah Pope closed out the quarter on a high note when Jalen Bell drove the lane and found Pope with a beautiful pass in the corner for a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Clinton to 60-41 advantage going into the final quarter.
The Dark Horses seemed to drop their guard midway through the fourth quarter and the Cougars were more than happy to take advantage of the lapse. Using several Clinton turnovers and some timely three point marksmanship, Southwest clawed to within 8 points with 1:36 remaining in the game. After another turnover and quick basket the Cougars were within 6 at 73-67 with just over a minute remaining.
Dewan Lesane missed two free throws on the other end, but redeemed himself when he stole the ball in the backcourt, drove to the basket, scored and drew a foul. Lesane converted the free throw to push the Clinton lead back to to 9, at 76-67 with 52 ticks left on the clock. The Cougars continued their strategy of fouling to extend the game, unfortunately for the visitors they fouled the wrong man, sending Kris Williams to the charity stripe three times in the final 52 seconds. The junior point guard calmly sank all six attempts to ice the game for Clinton, putting the Dark Horses through to the second round with the 84-77 win.
Jeremiah Pope once again paced the Clinton offensive attack with 35 points to lead all scorers. Kris Williams added 14 for the Dark Horses and Dewan Lesane scored 12 and had numerous steals to help the Horses to their first round win. The Cougars got 23 points from Savion Staton, with Demarquis Howard and Willie Jackson each adding 17 points in the losing effort.
After the game Clinton head coach Randy Jordan was pleased with the win, but stressed that the Horses will have to be better in the second round. “This time of year its one and done, you don’t get second chances, and we forgot that tonight. We got the win tonight, but we were soft on defense, and that is somewhat expected in a 3 vs 32 match-up, but we have to be better on Thursday to have a chance to beat West Bladen for a third time.” Jordan gave credit to several players for their performances, “Jeremiah Pope was huge for us tonight, Dewan Lesane, Tymair McIntyre, and Kris Williams were key to our success tonight, and Jalen Bell gave us some good minutes and had a couple of really nice assists.”
Jeremiah Pope talked about Thursday’s meeting with conference foe West Bladen, saying, “It is hard to beat a team three times in one season. We are familiar with them so we know what we need to do to take care of business, we are excited to have the opportunity to play them again and hopefully put them out.” Fellow senior Jalen Bell added, “we have to get everyone involved on Thursday, have to share the ball and play good defense.” Bell was flattered by coach Jordan’s praise of his steady play, saying, “I try to get my teammates involved in the game, I like to think I am a pass first type player and by getting my teammates involved I can help the team.”
The Dark Horse win improves Clinton’s record to 25-2 and sends them to a Thursday meeting with Four County Conference foe West Bladen. The Knights, 18-9 on the season, won their first round contest over First Flight 65-52 on Tuesday night. The second round game is scheduled for Thursday night at Sampson Middle School with a tip time of 7:30pm.
Reach Daron Barefoot at email@example.com.