By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
As Des Moines Area Community College ticked off point after point during a 17-0 run, it seemed as if it would be another one of those nights for both teams.
The Bears, ranked 15th in the NJCAA Division II national men’s basketball poll that came out Wednesday, appeared ready to put away another opponent. And it looked as if another game with promise was going to slip away from Clinton Community College.
On the CCC bench, coach Joe Shovlain wasn’t buying into those scenarios.
“I didn’t worry,” he said. “I believe in these guys.”
His players obviously shared their coach’s sentiments. After seeing a 39-32 lead become a 49-39 deficit, the Cougars turned things around Wednesday night at WJ Yourd Gymnasium and pulled out a victory that likely was the biggest the program had seen since Bob Walker was the coach. They rallied to defeat DMACC 78-72.
“Bob Walker (who watched the win from the back row of the bleachers) says it’s probably the first time we beat these guys in 13 years,” Shovlain said. “And we beat them. There was nothing gimmicky about it. Our guys were just determined.”
Their determination resulted in a bunch of smiles after the game.
“It feels so good that I screamed all the way to the locker room (after the game),” CCC sophomore center Charles Pemberton said.
“This is pretty big,” Cougars sophomore Richard Hurt said. “They’re a ranked team.”
Freshman Xzavion Jones said: “It means a lot. DMACC has been beating this program up for a while.”
That trio did the bulk of the scoring for CCC — Jones scored a game-high 31 points, Hurt tossed in 20 and Pemberton added 14 while spearheading the defensive effort — but Shovlain said, “This was a total team win.”
The Cougars (5-10, 1-3 Iowa Community College Athletic Conference) won it with a closing 16-10 run over the final 4 minutes.
“When we got the lead back, I definitely knew we were going to win,” Hurt said.
Jones did most of the damage, scoring 11 of the points, but he shared the credit.
“We knew I had the hot hand, but I’ve got to give credit to the other guys,” he said.
Jones buried a 3-pointer from out top with 3 minutes, 59 seconds that snapped a 62-62 tie and put Clinton ahead to stay.
“It just happened to be there for me,” he said. “I had a little space and had to shoot with confidence.”
Jake Guenther (13 points) missed down low on an inbounds play for DMACC, and Pemberton blocked his followup shot, then he scored at the other end and CCC’s lead never dipped below two after that.
Each time the Bears narrowed the gap, the Cougars responded.
Two free throws by Hurt made it 69-64.
“I was kind of nervous,” Hurt said. “It’s a free throw; you’ve got to knock it down.”
Jones and Pemberton worked a give-and-go for a Jones layup and a 71-67 lead.
“On that floater, it was not a great pass, but that was huge,” Shovlain said.
Then Jones buried a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 74-69.
“It was a big shot,” he said. “I saw I had space and decided to take it.”
Two free throws by Jones made it 76-72 with :40.6 left, and Jones and Hurt sealed the win with a free throw each in the final half-minute.
“I was (pretty confident),” Jones said about going to the line in those situations. “It’s just a free throw. It’s just a free shot. You’ve got to knock it down, especially in that situation.”
As important as the points were, so was the defensive effort that included an unofficial count of 14 blocks by Pemberton.
“It was amazing,” Jones said of his 6-foot-5, 240-pound teammate. “Great defense helps a lot when they don’t get those easy layups.”
Pemberton said he was primed to play defense.
“Two days ago, Coach talked about how they were 6-9, 6-11, 6-8, and me, I’m 6-5,” he said. “I had to mentally prepare myself. The mindset was to come out and play the best defense I can. I had blocks, and they kept adding up.”
Not only is Pemberton the biggest man on the Clinton roster, he got almost all of the big-man minutes Wednesday because fellow 6-5, 240-pound Virgin Islander BeeJay Caleb was hampered by an injury.
“BeeJay rolled an ankle was not able to play much,” Pemberton said. “I knew it would be a long, hard, tough game. I came out and did what I had to do.”
As the final seconds ticked away, the Cougars could exhale and get ready to enjoy the celebration.
“I started enjoying it when the final buzzer blew; they’re dangerous until the final tick of the clock,” Shovlain said.
It certainly was a win the Cougars had to work for. Although they gained confidence early, when they built a 20-12 advantage, they easily had the opportunity to doubt themselves when the Bears scored the final nine points of the first half to go ahead 41-39, then came out and scored the first eight of the second half. A dunk by Brandon Nazione (11 points) made it a 49-39 lead and appeared to say that the Bears weren’t done yet.
“We just knew we had to work a lot harder to not crumble,” Jones said.
“They started to score points more,” Pemberton said. “At a timeout, Coach said we’ve got to get stops. We had to play hard.”
Clinton finally ended the run on a driving layup by Jones with 15:53 remaining.
“We just knew we had to come out composed and not do too much,” Jones said. “We had to let the game flow and work on defense.”
Hurt followed with a 3-pointer from the left corner about a minute later, and the lead was down to five.
The Bears (13-5, 2-2) made a couple of counterpunches, pushing the lead back to seven once and six on another occasion, but CCC kept chipping away.
Pemberton broke to the basket on an inbounds play, took the pass, scored and converted the free throw for a three-point play that made it 53-50 with 12:44 left. Jones made a pair of free throws on the next trip down the floor to cut the gap to 53-52. Then, Kimani Stevens found Jones open for a transition jumper from 12 feet with 11:37 left to give Clinton its first lead since late in the first half.
Clinton continued its surge and pushed its lead to 60-53 before DMACC started a comeback. The Bears eventually pulled even at 62-62 on a basket by TJ Davis.
But CCC had the answer, and it resulted with the huge win for the program.
“It means a lot,” Hurt said. “We’re tired of being underdogs.”
One key component to the victory wasn’t even in Yourd Gymnasium.
Shovlain’s son Steve, his assistant coach, was ejected from Clinton’s 75-52 loss Saturday at Kirkwood and had to sit out one game as a result.
“Steven put the whole game plan together,” Joe Shovlain said. “He had a lot of these guys scouted to a ‘T.’ ”
It was a busy day all around for the Shovlain family. Joe’s daughter Shannon was inducted into the National Honor Society at Clinton High School, and his mother, Marcella, celebrated her 79th birthday.
Yet, Joe might have had the best celebration of all. And he already was thinking about how to top it.
“A few wins like this and we’ll gain confidence,” he said. “Hopefully, this will be the catalyst to start something out.”
CLINTON COMMUNITY COLLEGE 78,
DES MOINES AREA COMMUNITY COLLEGE 72
DMACC (13-5, 2-2) — Michael Alderman 3 0-0 8, Derek Williams 6 1-2 15, Jake Guenther 4 2-3 13, DeVonte Smith 2 0-1 6, Roberto Asencio 1 0-0 2, TJ Davis 2 0-2 4, Brandon Nazione 5 1-5 11, CJ Bates 0 0-0 0, LaTree Russell 5 3-3 13. Totals 28 7-16 72.
CLINTON CC (5-10, 1-3) — Virshaun Grant 1 0-1 3, Richard Hurt 7 3-4 20, Xzavion Jones 11 5-6 31, James Randolph 2 2-3 6, Charles Pemberton 6 2-4 14, Kimani Stevens 2 0-0 4, BJ Bostic 0 0-0 0, Dane Barun 0 0-0 0, BeeJay Caleb 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 12-18 78.
Halftime — DMACC 41, Clinton CC 39. 3-point goals — DMACC 9 (Guenther 3, Alderman 2, Williams 2, Smith 2); Clinton CC 8 (Jones 4, Hurt 3, Grant). Total fouls — DMACC16, Clinton CC 17. Fouled out — Randolph.