Clinton — winless during the 2011 basketball season — was the only Mississippi Athletic Conference team to reach the finals in bracket action over the weekend at the Justin Sharp Shootout.
The River Kings took second in the bronze division at the 23-team event to cap a 2-3 run over the weekend. That was enough to bring a big smile to the face of coach Nick Lawrence.
After going 0-22 last winter, the River Kings defeated Marengo (49-46 in double overtime) and Sterling (41-38) in the first two rounds of bronze-division play before losing 52-32 to a tough Peoria Richwoods squad.
Clinton was placed in the bronze division after losing its pool-play games Friday — 29-14 to United Township of East Moline, Ill., and 37-24 to Iowa City High.
“The games were dogfights and great learning experiences for us,” Lawrence said. “It’s been awhile since we’ve been in a close game. We had a few close games last year but couldn’t find a way to win them.
“I’m proud of the way our guys responded. We made some mistakes, but we made enough positive plays to come away with the wins.”
The win over Marengo was particularly sweet for Clinton. After ending the first overtime tied at 46-apiece, the game went into a sudden-death period, where the first team to score wins. Marengo missed two free throws before Tyler Thacker hit a 3-pointer to nail down the win. Thacker also hit a basket at the end of regulation to force overtime.
Lawrence had an 11-man roster for the tournament, and he was most impressed with his three sophomores: Jon Cady, Jalen Jones and J.J. Washington.
“Those three played solid all weekend long,” Lawrence said.
After a rough start against United Township, the River Kings began showing improvement against Iowa City High, before picking up their two wins. Richwoods, a perennial Illinois powerhouse, had won the Shootout in 2008 and 2009.
How the River Kings’ experiences at the Sharp Shootout — as well as other summer camps and events — translates into this winter remains to be seen, but Lawrence was happy with how his team progressed. And everyone had a good weekend.
“There are still a lot of areas we need to improve on, but we made a lot of improvement over the weekend,” he said. “It was nice to get the guys to see high school teams they’ll probably not get to see again in high school. Richwoods has a solid program, and they have some good athletes and talented kids.”
The Justin Sharp Shootout is named in memory of the former Rock Island standout, who died in 2003 of leukemia at age 18. Byron won the gold-division title with a 57-53 win over Rockford Boylan, last year’s title team.
As for the MAC’s other teams, Davenport Central joined Clinton in the bronze division, while Bettendorf and Davenport Assumption went unbeaten in pool play to lock up gold-division spots. North Scott and Pleasant Valley secured spots in the silver division after going 1-1 in pool play.