MCDERMOTT – You can break down Clay’s 44-39 sectional final loss to Peebles in a number of different ways, but ultimately, it was the free throw line that cost the Panthers a chance at playing in the Division IV district semifinals.
On the court, coaching, in-game execution, effort, it was all there and in Clay’s favor for much of the game. But, when you go 7/17 from the free throw line, and Peebles goes 4/4 in the final minute and 6/8 in the final period to put the icing on the cake and advance to Athens to play once again at the Convocation center, it’s hard to be upset at the other areas of your performance.
“Free throws will win or lose you games,” said Clay head coach Garrick Anderson following the loss. “Tonight, they didn’t go in our favor at all.”
In the opening period, Clay looked as poised as they have all season. The Panthers jumped out to an early 7-2 lead over Peebles, but were unable to score for a seven minute stretch that carried across two quarters and well into the second quarter. By the time Clay did eventually score, it would be to silence a 14-0 run by the Indians.
However, like they did for most of the night, Clay responded. After they scored their first bucket to break Peebles’ streak, the Panthers proceeded to go on a 10-0 run themselves to help tie the game at 19-19 at halftime, capped off by a Gage Moore three with 1:49 left in the first half. Moore finished Wednesday night with seven points off the bench, as well as two steals.
“Gage had it tonight, he really stepped up for us,” said Anderson. “He really hasn’t played a whole lot throughout the season, but I knew whenever his time was called, he would be ready, and he did that tonight.”
In the second half, Clay started off the third just as well as they had ended the second. Outscoring Peebles 11-4 to start the third, the Panthers at one point held a 30-23 lead with just thirty seconds to play in that period.
The problem for Clay, however, was Peebles junior Weston Browning. Browning came up with two huge buckets with under thirty seconds to play to cut the Panther lead to 30-27 entering the final frame.
In the fourth, it was the Browning show. The junior scored 12 of his game high 22 points in the final frame, including two big free throws with under a minute to play to help seal Peebles fate as sectional title winners. In the final period, Clay shot just 3/8 from the free throw line.
Clay loses six seniors to graduation, including starters Hunter Mathias and Mason Newton.
For a coach at a new school like Anderson, it was important that his seniors accept him as their own. Following their final game in the Panther uniform, he felt as if they did.
“I was an outsider coming in, being at Notre Dame before. For me to come in and have them accept me, it means everything. I’m definitely going to miss them.”
Peebles: 10-9-8-17 – 44
Clay: 7-12-11-9 – 39
Peebles: 16 FG, 1 3PT (Browning 1), 11/16 FT. Scoring: Browning 22, White 7, Lightner 6, Camp 4, Burba 2, Crothers 2, Shulaw 1
Clay: 15 FG, 2 3PT (Beegan, Moore 1), 7/17 FT. Scoring: Whitley 12, Moore 9, Mathias 7, Malone 6, Beegan 3, Toomire 2
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT