Clinton and West Bladen squared of in the Four County Conference Tournament finals on Friday night at Union High School. The two talented squads played a back and fourth battle for the first 20 minutes of the contest before Clinton implemented a half court trap that seemed to baffle the normally unflappable Knights. The Dark Horses took advantage of a string of West Bladen miscues to turn the game into a one-sided affair for the final quarter and a half, and take the 71-59 victory.
The first half was a back and forth slug fest with neither team able to pull away as the largest lead either team could scratch out was 4 points. West Bladen held a slim one point 31-30 halftime lead. The Knights used a slower pace to control the tempo, a tactic they hoped would take Clinton out of their comfort zone and shorten the game.
The third quarter opened in similar fashion and it looked as if the game would come down to the final minute to determine the outcome. The Dark Horses, looking to speed the pace of play, went to a half court trap midway through the third quarter and it changed the complexion of the contest.
West Bladen struggled with the defensive switch, going several possessions without getting a shot and giving up several easy baskets to the pressing Dark Horses. By the end of the third quarter Clinton had opened up an 11-point advantage at 49-38 and had effectively delivered the knockout blow to the Knights.
West Bladen showed signs of life in the fourth quarter when they hit two consecutive three pointers to cut the Dark Horse lead to six. But each time the Knights would threaten, Clinton would answer with an easy basket or pull down another offensive rebound to extend a possession ending any hopes the Knights had for a comeback. As the clock expired Clinton inserted their reserves into the game and began the celebration of the conference tournament championship with their 71-59 win over a very solid West Bladen squad.
Zion Autry and Xzavier Howard led and efficient Dark Horse interior attack. Autry had 18 points, going 8 for 9 from the field and hauled in 7 rebounds, 5 on the offensive glass. Howard powered in 16 points on a 6 of 7 shooting performance and cleaned the glass with 7 rebounds. Kris Williams had another solid game with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. E J Howard chipped in 10 points and Jeremiah Pope added 8 points. West Bladen was led by Stefan McDonald and Sayuan Dent with17 points each.
After the game Clinton head coach Randy Jordan applauded his team’s performance saying, “the tempo and pace was where West Bladen wanted it in the first half. We were not doing what we planned to and wanted to do in first half. The guys listened to everything we told them at halftime. In the second half we pounded the ball down inside, picked up the tempo on both ends and made them play at our pace.”
Jordan also expressed his pride in the team for accomplishing their goal of winning the tournament, adding “we have really matured this week and are playing as one, I could not be prouder of our guys than I am right now. This is the time of year when you want to be playing your best basketball, and we hope we are, they believe in each other and we hope they believe in us as coaches. We are looking forward to taking another step in our journey on Tuesday night.”
The tournament win runs Clinton’s overall record to 18-8 overall as they head into the state playoffs. The Dark Horses will host a first round game on Tuesday night with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Reach Mike Carter at [email protected]