GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay High boys basketball got a sterling defensive effort against a top-shooting Alabama team to get to the championship final of their own Blue Devil Holiday Basketball …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay High boys basketball got a sterling defensive effort against a top-shooting Alabama team to get to the championship final of their own Blue Devil Holiday Basketball Classic, but the effort fell short in the final with 8A-Lake Howell exacting a 64-52 championship win Saturday night at Clay High School.
“The practice before this tournament, we worked on everything; man-to-man, zone, any possible thing because we just weren’t sure what we were going to get,” said Clay coach Jared Moses, now 8-3 with a January 8 match with district 5-6A foe Ponte Vedra. “The grit of this team is we are finding ways to win ugly. I guess it’s good. Everyone tells me it’s a sign of a decent team, so…”
The seventh annual event saw teams from the Orlando area as well as the Skyline High Vikings traveling over 500 miles from Scottsboro, Alabama.
In their semifinal win over Skyline, the Blue Devils put on a defensive clinic which held Skyline to four points in the third quarter. The 43-32 victory paved the way to face the Lake Howell High (Winter Park) Silver Hawks for the tournament championship on Saturday evening.
Against Lake Howell, Clay was outmatched size wise, but used all their weapons to slow the Silver Hawks and create a 17-17 tie in the second quarter.
Lake Howell called a time out, took some enthusiastic encouragement from their coach, and never looked back as the Silver Hawks used their height to work around Clay on their way to a 64-52 win, sending Clay away as the second place victors in their tournament.
“The whole purpose of this tournament is to see if we can get to the district tournament with the likes of Palatka (district leader 8-1, 4-0), which is a tall task,” said Moses.
On Friday against Skyline, a top 1A Alabama school, Clay used a shifting double defense that seemed to knock Skyline off track quickly. At the half, Clay was only up by a single point, 17-16, but was killing it on takeaways. The problem was hitting the basket at the other end. All night, even with double digit attempts, Clay never hit a single three-pointer.
“That’s the first time in my entire career I ever had any team where we went 0 for on 3’s,” said Moses. “It’s not that we weren’t throwing them up and we have really good shooters too.”
It was after the break where the Blue Devils came to life, almost shutting down the Vikings. Keeping Skyline to only four third period points, but then turning on the inside game hitting for 12 points made the difference. Skyline never found an answer to the Clay defensive juggernaut and were outscored in the fourth as well. The 43-32 victory would set up the Saturday Showdown against what was clearly the team to beat the second they walked in, the Lake Howell Silver Hawks.
Lake Howell made the two-hour drive to hone their skills against the other seven teams who participated. The Silver Hawks put away the Fletcher Senators by 25 points, then Trinity Christian by 17 as they moved their way into the final game against Clay. The Silver Hawks wasted no time getting out to a 13-6 lead after the first as they shot around with every player on the team. It seemed the Hawks could hit from just about anywhere.
The Clay defense was strong, but the size advantage was obvious. The Blue Devils tied the game at 17 each in the second and seemed to slow the Silver Hawks. After a Lake Howell timeout, they seemed to get more aggressive and put the ball up more. Although only outscored by one in the second, 18-17, the first period gap was huge at the break 49-35.
Clay maintained an outside game that kept them in the hunt as several players hit for threes. Lake Howell had an answer for that as well as they proved to be just as effective from the outside. The difference was the pressure brought early on throw-ins and in the back court as the Silver Eagles were relentless in pressure as the Blue Devils set up on offense.
“I told my coaching staff there in the last 10 seconds, this will be a great film for us to learn from,” said Moses. “That’s a tough team, they are big, they have a kid going to Division 1 at Furman, and they are aggressive off the dribble. I thought we did good defensively, even giving up 64 points. It was just coming out sluggish after halftime and that’s normally not us. We usually have a great third quarter. We have a lot of positives to look at.”