MCDERMOTT — When a team shares the ball and looks to feed the open man, the game of basketball can be a beautiful one to watch.
On Tuesday evening, the Clay Panthers made that beautiful basketball a reality for all of the fans in attendance at Northwest High School.
However, as most Clay basketball fans are finding out, that’s par for the course for the 2016-17 version of the unit.
Adam Betten’s group utilized four double-figure scorers, eight treys and a never-relenting defense to win its 18th game in a row, and with it, a sectional championship as the Panthers rolled over Manchester, 81-42 to advance to the Convo.
For Betten, it was an exceptional performance all the way around.
“We wanted to push the tempo,” Betten said. “That was something that we talked about (before the game). We wanted to push the tempo early, and get the ball inside. Fortunately, we were able to knock down a few outside shots early, which forced (Manchester) to come out flying toward the three-point line, and we were able to penetrate.”
From the outset, Clay seemed to be able to get whatever it wanted whenever it wanted to obtain it.
Cameron King and Nate Hinze were especially vital to that very thought in the first quarter of play. The pair combined for 19 of the Panthers’ 26 points in the first quarter of play as they relentlessly attacked the seams in the Manchester defense, both on the fastbreak as well as in the halfcourt.
In all, King, by himself, scored 12 of his 18 points in the opening frame, while Hinze scored seven of his 16 in the opening stanza. Points, however, didn’t tell the whole story.
“Cameron and Nate did a great job handling the basketball, getting it to where it needed to go, dumping it down, and that got early opportunities for Caleb (Cline) and Cole (Gilliland). We were just able to capitalize on that all night. Nate moved the ball well, knocked down some shots, and was able to get what he wanted along with Cameron. Their ability to penetrate and kick was huge for us all night.”
But as good as the Panthers were offensively, their defensive work in the first quarter was what stood tall.
Over the duration of the first quarter, Clay held the Greyhounds to just two field goals over the entire first quarter of play – at the 4:09 and 2:13 marks of the frame – en route to grabbing a 26-6 lead at the end of the stanza.
“The thing that most people didn’t see was the fact that Manchester’s two best players, (Jamie) Cox and (Kaulen) Cox, were contained tonight,” Betten said. “Cameron and Brody (Riffe) just played out of their minds on defense tonight. They kept them out of the paint and they contested every shot, so the effort was not only there on offense, but it was there on defense, as well.”
In the second quarter, Manchester utilized an 11-5 run to cut the deficit down to a 31-17 count.
However, that margin was as close as the Greyhounds would get over the remainder of the evening.
Gilliland and Hinze scored each of Clay’s next 11 points in an 11-4 run to end the half, which was capped off by the latter’s silky-smooth three-pointer over a Manchester defender, to end the half ahead by a 42-21 tally.
As the third quarter of play began, the low post duo of Gilliland and Anthony Williams wasted no time in putting the contest out of reach.
Gilliland scored eight of Clay’s first 14 points in the quarter to help push the Panthers’ lead to a 56-26 count, while Williams, who was vital with his hustle around the basket all evening, scored six straight points for Clay to keep the lead at 30, 64-34, following the end of the quarter. The Panthers then scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter en route to the 81-42 victory.
“Anthony brings us a lot of energy off of the bench and is another senior leader for us,” Betten said. “He does a great job. Cole can bring the ball up and handle the rock, or post up. He brings an excellent set of skills that’s come from his hard work, and I’m proud of him.”
With the victory, Clay improves to 21-2 on the season. They’ll advance to the Division IV District Semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of the Miller – Symmes Valley contest on Wednesday, March 8 at 6:15 p.m.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1920 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7