The Dark Horses had to overcome a sluggish offensive start in Wednesday night’s conference game against East Bladen. Both teams heated up midway through the first quarter as the Dark Horses built a commanding lead, but the visiting Eagles mounted a fierce fourth quarter rally that came up short as Clinton preserved the 87-74 victory, remaining perfect in conference play and running their winning streak to 14 games.
It looked as if neither team was going to get on the scoreboard early as the teams made several trips up and down the court without scoring. Clinton finally broke the drought with their first basket nearly two minutes into the contest. The Eagles kept things close for a while but, by the end of the first quarter, Clinton had run out to a 25-16 advantage and seemed on the verge of blowing the game open.
The Dark Horses used a strong first half performance on the offensive glass to extend their lead in the second quarter. And by the time Jeremiah Pope sank a buzzer-beating three-pointer, the Horses held a 47-32 edge at halftime.
Both teams came out of the locker room looking to improve their defensive performances. The Dark Horses seemed content to allow the Eagles to easily get into the paint and cut into the Clinton lead, trailing the Horses 64-42 by the end of the third quarter. East Bladen capitalized on Clinton’s lack of defensive intensity going down the stretch, cutting the Dark Horse lead to as few as eight points on two occasions late in the game.
The Dark Horses were up for the challenge and utilized a late-game outburst to finish off the pesky Eagles, ringing up the 87-74 win for their 14th consecutive win after opening the season at 2-2.
Dewan Lesane led the Dark Horses with 21 points, Jeremiah Pope added 19 and Prentice Murphy scored 14 off the bench. East Bladen’s Adonis Avery led all scorers with 26 points and Denzel Johnson chipped in 18 for the Eagles.
After the game Clinton head coach Randy Jordan was happy with the win, but concerned with his team’s defensive effort.
“We have to play better defensively than we did tonight, especially in the second half of the season. We are going to get everyone’s best shot and we have to respond better than we did tonight,” the coach said. “I am happy with the win, but I’m not pleased, we have to find a way to improve our transition defense. We just didn’t get back tonight and they took advantage of that.”
High scorer Lesane added, “we started off slow tonight so I felt like I had to step up the defensive intensity and take a leadership role to get us going early on.”
“We have to really work in practice to get better on defense,” senior wing player Pope added. “We have to communicate better and listen to what the coaches are telling us. You have to really want to play defense, but we know that defense leads to scoring opportunities. We just have to do a better job.”
Both players admitted that the Dark Horses may have been looking past the Eagles.
“We may have been looking forward to Midway a little,” Pope said of Clinton’s next opponent on the schedule. “It is a big rivalry game for us and they are improving.”
The win improves Clinton to 16-2 overall and 9-0 in conference play, keeping the Dark Horses atop the Four County standings. East Bladen falls to 2-16 and 1-7 on the season. Clinton travels to cross-county rival Midway on Friday night while the Eagles return home to host Pender, also on Friday.
The Clinton JV team took a 40-32 win over the Eagles’ JV squad. Cameron Lawson led the Dark Horses with 11 points and Marcus Boykin added seven points for the Horses. The win keeps the JV Horses perfect in conference play at 9-0 and 13-2 overall.
Reach Daron Barefoot at firstname.lastname@example.org.