CLINTON — Top-notch teams don’t need much of an opening to take control of a game.
While Clinton stood toe-to-toe with third-ranked Dubuque Senior for much of the game Tuesday night, the Rams seized their opportunity late in the first half and handed the River Kings their first loss of the boys basketball season, 61-56 at W.J. Yourd Gymnasium.
Even in the loss, the River Kings proved something to themselves.
“It just proves how good we can be,” Clinton senior Jalen Jones said. “We have a lot of talent, and I think we can make it to the state tournament this year.”
Playing at the that level is something the Rams know about. Using an experienced lineup from a team that lost just twice last season and placed third in the state tournament, Senior closed the first half on an 18-7 run from which Clinton never completely recovered.
“The run was huge; it basically got us the win because they had a little run in the second half and we had a comfortable margin,” Rams 6-foot-7 senior guard Kyle Haber, who led all players with 24 points, said.
The Rams, whose starting lineup includes three future Division I basketball players and a University of Iowa football recruit — each 6-5 or taller — took advantage of their size advantage and rebounding tenacity, often getting multiple chances to score on a single possession.
“That’s our goal every night, to outrebound our opponent by 10 and 12 rebounds just on the offensive end because we have the height to do it,” Haber said. “If we keep crashing the boards hard, we can get extra possessions, and that will only help us.”
The River Kings said that was the difference in the game.
“They did a really good job of working hard and crashing the glass,” said Clinton 6-8 junior Brady Ernst, who scored 12 points but was in foul trouble much of the game. “We ... do a better job of keeping them off the glass and we come out with a win.”