The curtain was finally closed on a spectacular season for Clinton Dark Horses men’s basketball in a heart-wrenching loss during the 2A Regional Finals. Trailing most the game they could never close the gap, losing to Greene Central Saturday night 61-57.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these group of guys; they’ve giving me so much. This is more than just a basketball team — every one of them means the world to me and not just to me, but to the school as well,” said head coach Randy Jordan, his eyes filled with tears. “I can’t speak enough on their level of hard work over the course of this year to get here to this point. Especially having nine seniors, some of which have been with me for all four years, it’s a hard loss and I just really hate it for them.”
“Those nine guys will always be very special to me, I know that they all have very bright futures ahead of them and will be successful in life,” the coach added. “I’m going to truly miss them,”
Playing in front of the biggest crowd all year at Minges Coliseum, home of the East Carolina Pirates, the battle for the right to play in the 2A State Championship between the Horses and Rams commenced. Getting off to a very slow start, Greene Central took an early lead that lasted for the entire night.
Taking less than two minutes into the game the Dark Horses struck first and pushed ahead to 4-0 before the Rams finally found a basket at 4:15. Finding another five points they held a 7-4 lead at 3:38 before Clinton answered back with about two minutes left in the first quarter. With the rest of the first flying by with no more excitement the No.2 seeded Horses found themselves down by one after the opening eight minutes 7-6.
Things began to go sour in the second quarter as the Rams offense came on finding holes in Clinton’s zone defense. Not only were their cracks in the defense but the offense continued to struggle, going almost 10 minutes without a basket. Hitting for two more, at 6:48, it would be the start to a 13-0 run from Greene Central which saw them pull ahead to as much as 20-6 by 2:48. Then in the final minutes of the half the Horses switched to their go to press defense, causing a turnover that led to a Clinton basket ending the run.
With the pressure on they got back to back turnovers getting two more in the final minute at 58.1. It continued to work as the third takeaway, on three straight possessions, saw them cut the lead down to 20-12 with 34.5 left to play. While the paced slowed in the final seconds Clinton managed to get to the foul line with 8.6 left. They split the free throws but ended the half on a 7-0 run thinning the lead to 20-13 by halftime.
Both teams offenses were rolling in the third quarter, though Clinton was the better team offensively they still ended up trailing by six. Within the first :40 seconds both squads put points on the board with the score reaching 22-16 after a three ball from Zion Autry. They continued to trade baskets with the Dark Horses bringing the game to within four points twice at 4:42, 28-24, and again at 3:33 with a score of 30-26. They couldn’t get closer than that as the Rams matched them point for point, though they were outscored 20-19 they held the lead going into the fourth 39-33.
In the final frame, Greene Central blew the game wide open, holding the biggest lead they had all night at 16 points with 4:28 left to play. With shots still being trade the Rams were ahead 57-44 with 1:23 left but the Horses weren’t done fighting yet. Time running out they started fouling down 61-48, with 31.8 on the clock, they began to inch away at the lead. Answering with a 6-0 run in the final seconds they brought themselves to within four again with 2.6 seconds, unfortunately that would mark the end of the line as time ticked away.
“We got off to a good start, we got in and attacked the basket and got them into foul trouble, we just couldn’t get the tempo. We tried some of our press and man to man defense and it worked well but we just couldn’t get over the hump, we also missed to many layups,” said Jordan.
Scoring was spread all around with Autry leading the attack after a big second half going for 14 points. His brother, Xzavier Howard, was right on his heels finishing with 13. Kris Williams rounded out the leading scorers chipping in 11 on the night.
“I also just want to thank everyone from CHS that came out to support us and this outstanding group of young men. We will hand out our awards on Monday and then begin preparing for next year, because we plan to be here again,” Jordan concluded.
With the season brought to its conclusion, the Clinton Dark Horse men’s had an amazing year. Finishing 27-2, the Horses remained unbeaten in conference play on the way to the conference title, boasted a 22-game winning streak and made an appearance in the Regional finals of the 2018 Men’s 2A Basketball Championship.
Reach Michael Hardison at [email protected] Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @SampsonInd.