ATHENS, Ohio — The Panthers were labeled as an underdog and weren’t suppose to put up much of a fight against No. 1 Trimble. However, Clay had other plans and for 32-plus minutes, that plan was coming to fruition.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, they weren’t able to pull off the upset, losing the District IV Semi-Final matchup, 68-65, in overtime at the Convocation Center on Ohio University’s campus in Athens Monday night.
“Not too many people gave us a chance tonight, but they stepped up and played with a lot of heart. They played with a lot of poise,” Panthers head coach Adam Betten said. “They played with courage and they showed a lot of people what the Clay Panthers can do. I’m proud of the effort they gave tonight.”
The fifth-seeded Panthers — who have reached the district playoffs for the second consecutive year after taking a 10-year hiatus — positioned themselves for the victory by leading 50-40 with 6:53 left to go in the game before Trimble finally made its run. Over the next 1:52, the Tomcats rattled off nine unanswered points.
Trimble finally took its first lead — since leading 18-16 early in the second quarter — at 55-54 on a Cody Jones layup.
“There were a couple of big plays and they go on that 9-0 run,” Betten said. “They caught us at the right time and we gave up some key offensive rebounds. But the effort of our kids was outstanding. I thought Brody (Riffe) and Cameron (King) and Anthony (Williams), Cole (Gilliland) and Nate (Hinze); they just did a fantastic job defensively.
“We cut down what they wanted to do, and made them go to options three and four.”
Trailing 59-56 with 37 seconds left, Gilliland was fouled under the basket, but still managed to sink the layup and the ensuing free throw to tie the game.
However, in the overtime period, Clay (18-6) missed a game-tying three at the buzzer to extend the game even further.
“I thought our kids executed really well,” Betten said. “To draw up a play, and get an and one right there at the end of the fourth quarter to send it to overtime — they ran it perfect. To run those plays to get us back in the game and to even have a three at the end of the game, I thought all of those were good things. We just didn’t have enough to get it done tonight.”
Gilliland finished the game with a double-double, scoring a game-high 21 points while collecting 18 rebounds.
“Cole just did so good,” Betten said. “He just got in there and battled all night.”
The Panthers had four players score in double figures for the game. Aside from Gilliland’s 21, King scored 14, Hinze 13 and Williams finished with 10 points on the night.
“A lot of the credit goes to the kids for sticking to the game plan,” Betten said. “I thought we rebounded really well. None of those guys backed down. They kept their heads up and kept fighting the whole time.”
Clay will lose one senior, Jordan Collier, to graduation.
“He’s had a fantastic career,” Betten said. “He was able to be on both of the teams that’s went to the Convo the last two years. He’s a great leader for us. He sticks his noise in there, dives on balls. He’s just a really, really good kid. We’re going to miss him.”
Clay 12 18 15 14 6 — 65
Trimble 18 10 12 19 9 — 68
Clay — Riffe 3-1-7, Gilliland 9-1-21, King 6-1-14, Williams 4-2-10, Hinze 5-0-13.
Trimble — Jones 3-1-7, Hixon 3-2-10, Curry 1-3-5, Jenkins 8-1-20, Guthrie 8-4-20, Slack 2-0-4, Sayre 1-0-2.
Three-point field goals — Clay 6 (Gilliland 2, King, Hinze 3); Trimble 5 (Hixon 2, Jenkins 3).
Records — Clay 18-6; Trimble 21-3.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.