CLINTON – Clinton High School boys basketball first-year coach Troy Ersland is in the 'W' column.
Frederick Williams made a pair of key defensive stops in the closing moments of regulation and L.J. Henderson poured in 18 points to lead the River Kings to a 52-45 victory over Muscatine, marking Ersland's first victory with the program.
Naturally, he was quick to deflect the recognition to his players.
"I am just happy for the guys because they have been working really hard," Ersland said. "I'll win and lose a lot of games during my coaching career."
Clinging to a 48-45 lead with under a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, Williams forced the ball from Nate Diercks and pushed the ball up the court to Henderson, who gave the River Kings a bit of breathing room with a transition layup to extend the margin to five points.
But Williams was not done there. The senior forced another turnover on the following possession, ultimately leading to a pair of Ulysses Patterson free throws to effectively put the game out of reach.
"Freddy and L.J. are our best on-ball defenders and he embraces that 'junkyard dog' mentality and that is what we needed from him," Ersland said. "He was huge in the second half for us."
Only three games into the season, and it is no secret: the River Kings go as Henderson does. The 6-foot-3 guard showcased his athleticism throughout the fall on the football team and it has translated onto the hardwood, as the junior is impactful in every facet of the game.
"He is really important and that is no secret but the thing about him is that he is so unselfish that we sometimes have to tell him to be more selfish because he is always trying to get other guys the ball," Ersland said.
Muscatine led 28-27 at halftime.
After nabbing a 39-37 lead after three quarters, Clinton built a lead as big as nine points in the fourth period. However, Muscatine whittled the lead down to six on a pair of Diercks' 3-pointers and eventually came within one possession before Williams' defensive heroics.
Henderson said he was pleased with the way the team handled its first crack at a "crunch time" moment.
"We have a lot of inexperienced guys right now and we are still learning but we just preached in that timeout to not get riled up and stay calm," Henderson said.
Clinton (1-2) will travel to Davenport Central on Tuesday.