Dover — Clinton Prairie showed why they have now won 20 games in the second half Friday night at Western Boone.
The Gophers overcame a five-point halftime deficit and used a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter to pull away in a 68-54, ruining the Stars’ senior night.
“Our guys don’t like to lose and they play hard,” Clinton Prairie head coach Jeff Henley said. “We knew it was going to be a difficult game, we knew it was going to be possession by possession and I am proud of our kids.”
Western Boone (6-16) trailed by one at the half, but went on a 7-0 run in the first 1:38 of the second quarter to grab a 13-7 lead.
They held a 26-21 lead at the half, but Clinton Prairie (20-3) came out of the locker room with an 8-2 run to take a 29-28 lead.
“We gave up three 3s right away where we just missed our assignments,” Western Boone head coach J.R. Howell said. “It is disappointing. We missed some shots that led to long rebounds that let them get some transition baskets.”
A WeBo 3-pointer put the Stars back in front, but the Gophers countered with a 9-1 run to take a 38-32 lead with 2:47 left in the third, and led by three after three quarters.
“In the first half, we were down five, but we probably missed five point-blank shots we never miss,” Henley said. “Their zone was so active, that our kids were rushing at the rim. At halftime, we told them that we were OK. In the second half, we made a little adjustment against their zone, Jared Stillwell hit two 3s, Drew (Scott) hit a 3 and they had to come out in play us in man and we feel really comfortable there.”
Two Marshall Hodgen free throws brought the Stars within one at 46-45 with 6:27 to go, but Clinton Prairie went on a 9-0 run to go up 10, and Western Boone didn’t get any closer than eight the rest of the way.
Henley said that the Gophers did a good job of keeping their foot on the gas in the fourth quarter.
“Do we have confidence? Yeah, we do,” Henley said. “But I don’t think we really have a killer instinct. I can think of a lot of games where we had a nine or 10 point lead, but didn’t put the team away. Today, we did a nice job of that. We got it up to six, then pushed it to eight, 10 and 12. Then we felt comfortable.”
Howell didn’t call a timeout in the decisive fourth quarter run, deciding to let his guys play through it.
He said after the game that more than anything, he wanted to use that stretch as a learning experience for next week’s sectional.
“I put a lot of trust in our players to make a stop there,” Howell said. “At this point in time, we have to have some grit and toughness in that situation. Next week, we may be in the same situation and not have any timeouts. We will talk about this in our prep, and hopefully we can make the little adjustments so if it happens again next week we are ready.”
Hodgen led Western Boone with 14 points. Garrett Miller had 13, Tom Hendrix added 12 and Peyton Young had 11.
Scott led Clinton Prairie with 18, with Collin Stroup adding 16. Stillwell chipped in 14.
It was the final home game for three Star seniors — Hodgen, Bryce Pratt and Drew Demaree.
“In my two years here, they have been at everything,” Howell said. “There aren’t too many days they have missed for open gyms. They have been committed and put in a lot of hard work. I know a couple of them might have liked to play a little more, but they have brought a uniqueness to the program. They will be missed and I know they will be successful as they go on in life.”
Clinton Prairie is off until Tuesday, when they open up sectional play against Frontier.
Friday’s win was helpful in preparing for that game, Henley said, because Clinton Prairie had to execute down the stretch.
“We knew it was going to be a close game and that puts a lot of pressure on you, both on offense and defense,” Henley said. “Our kids didn’t blink, they just continued to execute and that was good for us.”
Western Boone is off until Wednesday, when they play Frankfort at 6 p.m. at Greencastle.
Western Boone won the regular season meeting 62-54 on Jan. 13, but Frankfort has improved since then.
“They are a totally different team,” Howell said. “They are big, they are strong and they are playing confident. We will have our work cut out for us. It is going to be a dog fight. They are a solid team, they are well-coached and hopefully we can execute what we want to do.”