It was the kind of game that makes you hold your breath, as Clinton and Croatan went head-to-head in Cougar country Wednesday night, with the Horses eking out a 55-54 win, their third conference victory of the season.
It was, said coach Randy Jordan, a barn-burner of a game, with the two teams trading points as they moved up and down the court.
But it was the second half, the Clinton coach said, that made the difference for his varsity boys.
“We had great intensity in that second half and our defense was able to shut down Croatan’s leading scorers. We held them to a total of 8 points in the second half. In the first, we allowed them 18 total points. That was the difference, I believe.”
The Cougars went up 20-17 after the first quarter, but Clinton was hot on their heels, trading basket for basket in the second quarter and heading into the half trailing only by 3, 28-25.
After the break, the Dark Horses defense held strong, led by efforts from Thaxton Spruill, Zack Underwood and Wil Pearson who, in tandem, did a good job defending and pulling down rebounds.
Clinton had tied it up by the end of the third quarter at 42, but then fell behind again by 6 points with about 1:28 left on the clock.
That’s when Demontio Bryant and Pearson made key plays that pulled the Horses back into the game and eventually gave them the 1-point win.
“Demontio Bryant and Wil Pearson showed great senior leadership down the stretch,” Jordan said. Pearson,off a steal, hit a 3-pointer and then Bryant, off another steal, was fouled and hit both free throws.
He hit 3 of 4 from the charity stripe in the last seconds of the game, Jordan said of Bryant.
Overall, the Clinton coach said, he was proud of his team’s defensive play. “They did well; they really did.”
Bryant, Underwood and Shian Bradshaw led scoring with 10 points each. Pearson had 7 points, Spruill, 6; Jalyn Banks, 2; Greg Smith, 2; O.J. Jones, 2; and J.C. Evans, 2.
The win moves Clinton’s overall record to 8-2. They are now 2-0 in the conference and face Swansboro at home Friday.