Clinton answered every challenge Friday night and defeated Muscatine 57-49 in Mississippi Athletic Conference boys basketball for a season series sweep.
“We made it interesting at times — we played well in spurts, then had a couple of possessions where we let them creep back in — but we never felt we lost control,” Clinton coach Nick Lawrence said.
The River Kings (6-13) scored the first four points and never trailed as they improved to 3-11 in the MAC. Jalen Jones scored on a fastbreak layup to snap a 4-4 tie and Brady Ernst followed with a slam dunk to put the Kings up 8-4 with 3 minutes, 36 seconds left in the first quarter.
Getting Ernst off to a good start was a key for the Kings. He had been held to a total of three points in the past two games.
“He put together a really solid game,” Lawrence said. “By our count he had 16 rebounds, five assists and a handful of blocks — a phenomenal stat line. When he’s proficient like that, he’s tough to stop.”
After a Muscatine free throw, Clinton reeled off six straight points to push the lead to 14-5. But, every time the Kings got some separation on the scoreboard, the Muskies (4-15, 3-11) responded with their own run.
Muscatine got within 18-17 when Austin Lohman scored five straight points, including a banked-in 3-pointer midway through the second quarter. But, Derrick Howard made 1 of 2 free throws and Ernst followed with a 3-point basket to push Clinton’s lead back to five.
The Muskies pulled within 25-23 when Adam Miller scored the first basket of the second half, but Jacob Judd answered with a basket and Jones tossed in a 3-pointer.
Minutes later, a 3-pointer by Jones extended Clinton’s lead to 35-25, but once again Muscatine clawed back. The Muskies scored six straight to get within 35-31.
But, after a Clinton timeout with 2:08 left in the third quarter, Jones went on a spree after which the Muskies never were within one possession of tying the game again.
Jones scored nine consecutive points, capping his personal run with a breakaway dunk that gave Clinton a 44-31 lead with 6:50 left in the fourth quarter.
“That’s the nice thing about this year — when we’ve needed big baskets, Jalen has delivered,” Lawrence said. “When he brings the mentality that he’s the best player on the floor, it helps the whole team.”
Down the stretch, Muscatine pulled within 48-44 on a 3-pointer by Adam Miller, but a three-point play by Clinton’s Tyler Thacker countered that, and the River Kings held on.
“Both Jacob (Judd) and Thacker came up with big plays,” Lawrence said. “Those were huge baskets that allowed us to keep the momentum in our favor.”
Clinton will try to keep its momentum going Tuesday when it plays host to Davenport West, a team it beat on the road earlier this season.