Clinton’s men’s basketball team traveled to Jacksonville on Tuesday night to face the undefeated Monarchs from Northside Jacksonville in the Eastern semifinal game of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs. The Dark Horses played a strong first half, leading by as many as seven points early in the second quarter, before the Monarchs started to claw their way back into the game. The Monarchs used a third quarter run to take control of the game, and pull away from the Horses with the 70-51 win.
The Dark Horses took control of the game in the early going, and when Kris Williams hit a jumper with 1:11 left in the first quarter, Clinton had their largest lead at 16-10. Northside cut the lead to four at 16-12 when they hit two free throws with 6 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Williams struck again early in the second quarter when he hit a 3-pointer from the corner to extend the Dark Horse lead to seven at 19-12 with 6:57 left in the first half. It was at this point that Northside seemed to come to life. The Monarchs went on a 9-4 run to trim the margin to three, at 23-20, with 5:03 left in the second frame. After a Dark Horse timeout the teams traded baskets for the remainder of the second quarter with Clinton taking a slim 29-26 lead to the halftime break.
After playing well in the first half, Clinton looked to regain the momentum in the second half, but the Monarchs had other plans. Northside opened the second half with a 4-0 run to take a 1-point lead in the first minute of the third quarter. Clinton’s Dewan Lesane answered the Monarch surge with two free throws to give Clinton a 32-30 lead at the 6:32 mark of the third quarter.
That would be the last time the Horses would hold the edge.
Northside capitalized on several Clinton turnovers to take a 4-point lead with 2:36 remaining in the third quarter. After a timeout the Monarchs put their foot on the gas and never looked back, outscoring the Dark Horse 9-1 in the final two and a half minutes of the third quarter to extend their lead to 10 points at 49-39 going into the final quarter.
With their backs to the wall, the Dark Horses were forced to go into a full court press in the final frame. The Monarchs had little difficulty breaking the press, scoring several easy baskets as they broke the pressure on several successive possessions. At one point early in the fourth period the Monarch run that had started in the late stages of the third quarter stretched to 16-1 and had the home crowd howling at full throat.
The Monarchs pulled back the reins with just under six minutes remaining in the game, going to a spread offense to shorten the game. The home team basically played keep away from the Dark Horses, scoring only when they had wide open shots, building their lead to 20 points and putting the game on ice.
Clinton’s coach Randy Jordan called a late timeout to install several players in the game but most notably to remove Jeremiah Pope from the floor so the Clinton faithful could express their appreciation for the senior wing player’s performance over the past four years.
After the game, Jordan, obviously disappointed with the outcome, commented on his team’s performance.
“We played well in the first half, but could have been better. We never really got into a rhythm offensively and missed some opportunities to score in the first half. We made too many mistakes tonight, mistakes that we just have not made all year,” Jordan stated. “Northside is a good team and they deserve a great deal of credit. We told the guys at halftime that we were going to get Northside’s best effort for the next 16 minutes and I am just not sure they believed us. They just outplayed us in the second half.”
Jordan emphasized that his team had no reason to hang their heads, adding, “I am really proud of this team, they had a great year. This group tied the school record for wins with 27, tied the school record for least losses. I know the season ended the way not any of us wanted, but they need to walk out of here with their heads held high.”
The coach concluded by praising his eight seniors.
“Jeremiah Pope, Tyion Wright, Malik Gause, Ryheem Skinner, Jaden Bell, Mike Kramer, Prentice Murphy and JJ Robertson, our eight seniors, have meant so much to this program. They are a great group of guys and I have been honored to be with them for just a little while. They all have promising futures, and I can’t wait to see all the great things they will do with their lives,” Jordan said.
Statistically the Dark Horses were led by Lesane’s 13 points, while Pope added 12 points, Williams had seven points and Wright tallied 5 points. Northside’s Zack Hobbs led all scorers with 19 points and Kenny Dye had 11 points for the Monarchs.
The Dark Horses finished out the season with a 27-3 record overall, and an unblemished mark in Four County Conference play. Northside remains perfect on the season at 28-0 and advances to the Eastern Regional Finals where they will face Greene Central for a spot in the State Championship.
Reach Sports Editor Daron Barefoot at [email protected]