Last time the Class 1A No. 9 Clinton Prairie boys’ basketball went up against the rival Clinton Central Bulldogs, the Gophers battled through a close game before taking the lead in the final quarter and winning the holiday tournament.
This time, it appeared that fans were going to be treated to a very similar game to the first until the Gophers caught fire from deep in the third quarter to break away to a 67-49 win.
The win was the 10th in a row for the Gophers, whose only loss was their season-opening game against the Frankfort Hot Dogs.
Little separation between the two teams and a lopsided foul total were traits of the teams’ December meeting, and those traits showed up again on Friday night at Jefferson.
Through just the first 19 minutes and 30 seconds of the contest, there were 11 lead changes and the teams tied seven times before the Gophers put together the first significant run of the night for ether team.
Up 34-33, the Gophers went up by three points after Drew Scott scored, and then Prairie got back-to-back 3-pointer from junior point guard Jared Stillwell and senior Jacob Price. Suddenly down nine points, Clinton Central head coach Fonso White called a timeout to regroup. A technical foul was called on White just as play began to resume, Stillwell hit both shots from the line, and the Gophers completed a 10-point run to lead 44-33 with just under three minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Gophers then hit four 3-pointers in the final minute and 40 seconds to break the game open and lead 58-38 at the end of the third quarter.
“Anytime you do that, you are probably going to have a good quarter,” Clinton Prairie head coach Jeff Henley said. “Then we controlled the game, spread the floor at the end and drew some fouls. I was real pleased with the kids
“The first half was exactly like the first game,” Henley agreed. “Both teams were playing hard and were very aggressive. I thought (Clinton Central) did a nice job trying to slow us down and take us out of some things. I told the kids at halftime that I thought like our intensity wasn’t what it should have been and that we need to play better on the defensive end. I thought we did, and we started getting some nice looks off of transition and our offensive sets.”
White was disappointed with the events of the third quarter but credits the Gophers for making shots.
“I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder,” White said. “I could look at that they executed their screens and their cut-action very well to get those open 3s. The Stillwell kid is a pretty good shooter. He and the (Kale) Morris kid are two great shooters that anybody would love to have on their team because at any point of time they could catch fire.
“The kids worked hard and they tried to get in it but a lot of things didn’t go our way,” White added.
The Bulldogs again found their selves in foul trouble early versus the Gophers. Junior Keenan Orr had to sit the entire second quarter after picking up three fouls in the first quarter, and Axle Brandenburg had three with two minutes left in the first half.
Clinton Central had 26 fouls compared to 13 for the Gophers.
“I think it is an intensity thing,” White said. “We have to figure out how to dial down our level of intensity or water it down to where we can get ourselves in a better situation. Or, we might have to go zone against people. But, I like how our man-to-man and the toughness of our kids.”
Morris led the Gophers with 22 points, while Stillwell scored 17.
“He hit some big 3s,” Henley said. “Kale hit a couple 3s in transition before they could find him. That is what we wanted to do – get down the floor before they could find our shooters. We wanted to make them collapse to the bucket, come back out and play so we reverse the basketball and hopefully attack it. I was real proud of the kids in the second half because of how they played. They are really smart, have a lot of poise, took care of the basketball and hit some shots when we had to.”
For the Bulldogs, Brandenburg and Tommy Davidson scored 14 points apiece, while sophomore Brendan Smith added eight.
“(Brendan) was injured in our Eastern game,” White said. “We are slowly trying to bring him back because he is not at full strength. Here in the next couple weeks we will get (Austin) Metzinger back. He has been out since the Eastern game. George Landis played very well for us. He has been coming along since the Northwestern game. He is a great kid who is starting to pick up a lot of our concepts. So, we should be seeing a lot more of him in the next few games.”
Clinton Prairie won the junior varsity game, 55-22.