It didn’t take Clinton boys’ basketball coach Nick Lawrence long to figure out why his team hadn’t been able to compete in its 54-35 loss to Bettendorf.
Actually, he had the issue pinpointed long before the game was over. The problem was that the River Kings never managed to put the solution into action.
From start to finish, Bettendorf cleaned up on the offensive glass, extending almost every possession and keeping the Clinton offense from playing at its usual pace. Kendall Jacks did the most damage, leading all scorers with 20 points, as the River Kings took their third loss of the season against a top-5 opponent, falling to the Bulldogs on Friday night at Bettendorf High School.
“That was definitely a focus of what we needed to do to win the game, and I thought that’s really where Bettendorf hurt us tonight,” Lawrence said. “I thought that defensively, we did a pretty good job on our initial sequence of defending. I don’t think they scored on a lot of their set plays right off the bat. Where they really killed us was second and third chance opportunities.”
In fact, Clinton (6-3, 3-2 MAC) was able to throw Bettendorf senior guards Dylan Sortillo and Cole Clearman off their games, holding them to six combined baskets for the contest. But more often than not, Sortillo’s and Clearman’s misses found the hands of either Jacks, Nicholas Baer, Kyle Buhman or another Bulldogs post player, creating several extra chances within five feet of the Clinton basket.
“We didn’t box out at all,” Clinton center Brady Ernst said. “We weren’t strong with the ball, and they came over our backs. They were stronger than us and did a really good job of boxing out and keeping us off the glass. They got a lot of rebounds and second-chance points from that.”
The Bulldogs (9-0, 5-0) further compounded the issue by taking away three-fifths of the Clinton offense and forcing senior guard Jalen Jones into contested shots away from the basket. Jones was able to get 16 points to lead the River Kings, but most of those came on deep 3-pointers on the rare occasions when he found a sliver of space.
“Bettendorf plays a really good help-side defense, and it’s really tough to score on them,” Jones said. “It’s really hard to get inside against them. Their help side rotation is phenomenal, and you’ve got to try to shoot or draw fouls on them. I think they’re one of the best defenses in the state. Nobody is as quick on defense, and they anticipate so well.”
With Jones’ damage limited to the key, the burden fell on the rest of the River Kings to step up, which never happened. Other than Ernst’s eight points, the only other basket from a Clinton starter was a Zach Pope 3-pointer that came at the 4:32 mark of the first quarter.
“When you’re falling away and shooting 15, 18 and 20-foot contested jump shots, that’s exactly what Bettendorf wants you to do,” Lawrence said. “We’ve got to work the ball a little more and pound inside. All of our guys I think settled too much for the perimeter shot, and that’s a shot we can get at any point throughout the possession.
“You look at the teams that are successful that are highly ranked, and it’s a total team contribution. Every guy’s a threat offensively. But Jon Cady didn’t score, Derrick Howard didn’t score, and it hurts. For us to be successful, we need everybody to be on the same page and everybody to do their part.”
Without that, Clinton had no chance to topple Bettendorf, which will likely move to No. 1 next week after Iowa City West’s loss on Friday to Dubuque Senior. The River Kings, meanwhile, took their third defeat of the season against a squad ranked in the top five in 4A.
“Now that we’ve played the top teams in the state, we know what level of competition we need to play at,” Jones said. “We’ve got to keep working in practice and try to play just like they play.”
Bettendorf 54, Clinton 35
Clinton 10 4 10 11 — 35
Bettendorf 13 15 14 12 — 54
Zach Pope 1 0-2 3, Jalen Jones 5 2-2 16, Jon Cady 0 0-2 0, Colin Nelson 0 1-2 1, Justin Horst 1 0-0 3, Cole Pennock 2 0-0 4, Brady Ernst 4 0-0 8. Totals 13 3-8 35.
Dylan Sortillo 2 0-0 5, Cole Clearman 4 0-0 9, Tyler Dunlavy 0 0-1 0, Kendall Jacks 8 2-2 20, Matt Henson 1 0-0 3, Kyle Buhman 3 1-4 7, Nicholas Baer 4 2-3 10. Totals 22 5-10 54.
Halftime: Bettendorf, 28-14.
3-point goals: Clinton 6 (Jones 4, Pope, Horst), Bettendorf 5 (Jacks 2, Henson, Clearman, Sortillo)