Between their streaky shooting and smothering defense, the Clover Blue Eagles have developed into a team that will give rival squads fits.
Northwestern was the latest casualty, as the Blue Eagles beat the Trojans 52-47 despite a near fourth-quarter collapse by Clover. It was the first in-region game for both 3-AAAA teams.
"I told our team that we would be in for a struggle tonight, and that we'd be happy to sneak a win any way we can," said Clover coach Dudley Lybrand. "But everybody did their part, and there's nothing like starting region play with a win to build upon."
The gritty first half of play was a back-and-forth battle between Northwestern's lanky athleticism and Clover's disruptive zone defensive scheme. The Blue Eagles frustrated Northwestern from the field the entire game, holding the Trojans to just one 3-pointer on the night, a heave from senior Jhante McMillian as the first-quarter buzzer sounded.
But the Trojans countered by feeding 6-foot-5 junior power forward Rontavius McClure in the post early and often, as McClure finished tied for a game-high 21 points. Nineteen of those points came in the paint.
Northwestern opened the third quarter by attacking the basket, but Clover continued to press and allowed zero points from outside the paint in the quarter. Meanwhile, Clover senior forward Cody Bauer heated up with nine points in the quarter, and that combined with the strong point guard play of Taylor Hoover gave the Blue Eagles a nine-point cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
The Trojans continued a third-quarter scoring drought into the fourth quarter, going three minutes without a basket. But Northwestern's dedication to the full-court press frustrated Clover into several turnovers and offensive miscues as the Trojans continued to chip into the lead. Trojans sophomore forward Mustafia Love emerged from a quiet game to score six fourth-quarter points to tie the score at one point. But it was Clover bench contributor Ta Long who provided the clutch moment, swiping an errant pass and making two free throws in the final minute to halt the Blue Eagles downward slide.
Northwestern -- Rontavius McClure 21 Keith Bell 11 Mustafia Love 8 Jhante McMillian 5 Manzi Hill 2.
Clover -- Cody Bauer 21 Ryan Stollar 8 Taylor Hoover 7 Dreki Williams 6 Ashleyn Thomason 6 Ta Long 4
3-pointers --Northwestern 1 (McMillian), Clover 3 (Bauer 3). Team fouls -- Northwestern 20, Clover 18. Fouled out -- Northwestern: Keith Bell.
Records: Northwestern 8-5, Region 0-1; Clover 9-6, Region 1-0