Clinton and Midway renewed their cross county rivalry Friday night in Clinton and for most of the game the Raiders seemed to be in firm control of the contest, leading by as many as ten points deep in the second half. But the Dark Horses never stopped fighting, taking advantage of a series of late game turnovers by the Raiders to complete the late game rally for a 68-66 win.
Midway came out of the gates on fire, quickly scoring the first five points of the game and sprinting out to the early lead. At the same time Clinton was plagued by an inability to get the ball into the basket, missing several shots from point blank range. The Dark Horses were able to keep the game relatively close, getting several second chance baskets on offensive rebounds, but were unable to close the gap any closer than five points and trailed 19-14 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter held more of the same as the Raiders continued their blazing hot shooting while Clinton was unable to convert on several close range opportunities. The Raiders built the lead to 39-33 at the half, and appeared to be in command of the contest as the teams headed to the locker room.
The Dark Horses ratcheted up the defensive pressure in the second half, but the Raiders had an answer for every rally. Clinton closed the gap to 3 points midway through the third quarter but Midway was unflappable, answering the bell and running the lead to 10 points, 56-46 just before the end of the third.
Clinton head coach Randy Jordan decided to go small to start the fourth quarter, injecting a lineup of Jaquan McLean, Rayquan Faison, Tyion Wright, J J Robertson and Tymair McIntyre. The lineup change created a new energy for the Dark Horses as the undersized group created havoc all over the court and slowly cut into the Midway lead. Clinton cut the lead to three points at 61-58 with 3:05 remaining, but once again the Raiders answered, hitting both ends of a 1 and 1 opportunity to lead 63-58 with 2:57 left in the game.
The teams swapped a couple of baskets and it appeared that Midway would hold serve and keep the Dark Horses at bay. The Raiders came out of a time out trying to melt the clock, running a slow down offense to near perfection as Ayden Canady hit a short jumper in the lane to give the Raiders a 65-62 lead at the 1:10 mark. Clinton failed to answer at the other end and were forced to foul immediately to extend the game. Midway connected on the front end of the 1 and 1 opportunity but when the second free throw failed to find its mark the Dark Horses were still in the game, trailing by four.
The Dark Horses quickly moved the ball up court and scored from close range to pull within two at 66-64, getting a timeout to discuss strategy. On the ensuing in-bounds play, Clinton’s Zion Autry made a tremendous defensive play. Guarding the in-bounds pass, Autry went high to deflect the pass, retrieved the loose ball along the baseline, took one step and slam dunked the game tying basket with 32 seconds remaining in the game. Midway tried to throw an three quarter court pass but Clinton’s Kris Williams was not fooled. Williams intercepted the high arching throw, giving the Dark Horses the opportunity to play for the game winning shot.
After a timeout to discuss strategy Clinton in-bounded the ball with 25 seconds remaining. After quickly moving the ball around the perimeter, working the clock down under ten seconds, Xavier Howard took a pass at the elbow, dribbled once into the lane and pulled up for a 13 foot jumper that found its mark and gave the Dark Horses their first lead of the game with 4.6 seconds remaining. After Midway’s desperation fling failed to find the mark, and the buzzer sounded, the capacity crowd rushed the court in celebration of the Dark Horses 68-66 buzzer beating win.
After the game, Clinton head coach Randy Jordan praised his player’s spirit and refusal to give up, saying “we got great shots all night, but they just wouldn’t fall, that was frustrating but our guys didn’t give up. That group that started the fourth quarter for us was a small lineup but they brought a lot of energy for us and we felt like we needed that energy and high octane type play that this group brings.”
Jordan was quick to note that he hopes this game will be the late season springboard that his team needs heading into the postseason, adding “our guys showed some toughness tonight, and I am really proud of that, this was a huge win for us.”
Midway head coach Matthew Creech, while dissapointed loss was proud of his player’s performance, saying, “our team played about as well for 32 minutes tonight as I have seen them play all year. They put themselves in a position to win tonight and I take full responsibility for the meltdown in the last two minutes, and I just hate that I let them down and they didn’t go home with the win tonight. My hat is off to Clinton, they made some great plays to win the game. Now we have to rebound from this and get ready to play a tough Wallace-Rose Hill team on Monday night at home.”
Xavier Howard led the Dark Horses with 14 points, including the game winner, E J Howard added 13 and Kris Williams had 12 points for Clinton. Paris Smith paced the Raiders with 15 points, Marell Bullock chipped in 14, Dariuss Perez added 11 and Ayden Canady had 8.
The win improves Clinton’s record to 13-6 overall and 8-2 in Four County Conference Play. Midway falls to 13-7 overall and 5-5 in conference action. Clinton will host Union on next Tuesday and Midway welcomes Wallace-Rose Hill to Spivey’s corner on Monday.
Reach Mike Carter at [email protected]