The Mountain Lions gave Clay all they wanted, but this time a potential go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute was off the mark and Tiger freshman Tyler McDaniel hit four straight free throws late as Clay County held on.
“Our kids the last couple of weeks have been giving that maximum effort. They came to play and it just came down to executing a couple plays at both ends of the floor,” Pineville coach J.D. Strange said. “It’s not because they didn’t try; I’m really proud of them. I wish things could have gone better for them, but Clay County was able to execute at the end a little bit more than us.”
McDaniel led all scorers with 23 points and carried the Tiger offense with 18 points in the second half. Zach McGeorge finished with 11 points in the game wile Stephon Lyttle and Brandon Word added six each.
“Offensively it seemed like he was the only one who was making shots and you’ll have games like that,” Clay County coach Robert Marcum said of his freshman guard. “I’m proud of my guys. It didn’t look good at the end of the game, but we stepped up and got in a situation where we had the lead and got the right guy at the free throw line.”
Pineville was led by junior center John Simpson, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, and junior forward Byron David Asher, who had 15 and 13. Seth Jeffrey added eight points and Cody Collett six.
“We knew we were going to have a problem with their post players in Simpson and Asher. Pineville’s for real, they’re playing well at the right time,” Marcum said. “We had problems with them and we were focused. Our plan was to have a guy in front and a guy behind both of them at all times. They just got a lot of motion and got us in a disadvantage. Hats off to Pineville, they did a good job.”
Clay jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but the Lions got two free throws from Asher and a 3 from Jeffrey to go up 5-4. The teams traded the lead four times in the first quarter, but the Tigers ended the period with a 9-2 run. Word scored four points during the spurt and Zac Kemp’s bucket made it 16-9 after one.
Baskets from Lyttle, McDaniel and McGeorge gave Clay their biggest lead at 22-12 with about 5:30 to play in the half, but Pineville scored the next nine points.
Simpson started the run with a putback and late two free throws, freshman Isaac Longworth drove in with a teardrop layup and a 3 from Jeffrey made it 22-21 by the 3:08 mark.
Pineville out-rebounded the Tigers 17-6 in the first half and hit 9 of 10 free throws while Clay went just 3 for 8 from the line.
Still, the Tigers got jumpers from McGeorge and Work and took a 27-23 lead into the break.
McDaniel hit a pair of 3s early in the third quarter as the Clay lead went back out to ten at 33-23. But once again the Lions fought back.
This time they used a 10-0 run to tie the game. Asher scored inside in a nice feed from Simpson, Simpson converted a three-point play, Asher knocked down a base line jumper and Jared Philpot hit a 3 to make it 33-33 with 2:40 left in the quarter.
“We got down early in the game. In the third quarter we got down again but both times we came back and made a game out of it,” said Strange. “I think that says a whole lot about the character of the kids we’ve got.”
McGeorge scored after grabbing an offensive rebound to put Clay back on top and McDaniel hit another 3 as the Tigers led 38-35 after three quarters.
The Clay lead hovered between three and five points until Simpson hit both ends of the bonus with 6:42 remaining. McGeorge missed two free throws at the other end and then Simpson tied the game at 42 on a layup off a lob from Jeffrey at the 5:52 mark.
Clay went back ahead on a jumper from McDaniel and Steven Wagers scored inside on a nice feed from McGeorge. Another three-point play by Simpson tied things up again at 46 with 4:41 to play.
McDaniel hit his fourth 3-pointer of the second half with 4:00 to play, but Collett came up with a steal and tapped the ball ahead to Jeffrey for a layup. After two free throws from Kemp, Collett drove inside and converted a three-point play and the game was tied at 51 with 3:11 to go.
The Lions got the ball back but turned it over and McGeorge scored on a putback with 2:20 to go to give Clay a 53-51 edge.
The teams traded turnovers and Pineville got the ball again with about a minute left.
It was very similar to Thursday’s game with Corbin and again the Lions elected to not hold for a final shot. This time Collett got a good look a three from the left corner, but it rimmed out. The Tigers got the ball to McDaniel and he hit two free throws with 43 seconds to play to stretch the lead to four.
One free throw from Asher made it 55-52 with 27 seconds on the clock, but McDaniel hit two at the 15 second mark. The Lions missed a pair of late 3s and Kody Reed hit one of two at the line with six seconds left to set the final at 58-52.
“It’s been eleven years since Clay County has won a region. I played for Clay County back in ‘89 to ‘92 and that was the glory days, if you will,” Marcum said. “I have a passion for the program and one of the things I want to do is get the Tigers back to the state tournament. We’ve got the opportunity, so we’ve got to get ready for a very good North Laurel team come Monday.”
Clay County (24-10) beat the Jaguars 47-40 in the 49th District championship game last week. They’ll meet again Monday at 7:30 for the 13th Region title.
“It was a good atmosphere when we played there in the district tournament and I expect another good atmosphere on Monday,” Marcum added. “They’ve got a lot of size, they cause you to alter a lot of shots. They’ve got little Carson out there that if you let him get loose he can hurt you. They’ve got a very nice team, they’re very balanced and we’re going to have to play a very good game to win.”
Pineville ends the season with a record of 12-19. Without a senior on the roster, the Lions just may have given the region a good at what to expect from the team next season.
“They’re hurt right now because they gave it their all and it didn’t work out,” Strange said. “I hope this is a motivating factor to get them to invest a lot more in the off-season.
“This is a good atmosphere to play in when you get here and you want to stay. Hopefully we’ll do things in the off-season to prepare ourselves to stay a little longer next time.”
— — —
Pineville 9 14 12 17 — 52
Clay County 16 11 11 20 — 58
PINEVILLE (52): John Simpson 18, Byron David Asher 15, Seth Jeffrey 8, Cody Collett 6, Jared Philpot 3, Isaac Longworth 2, Connor Ford 0, Jacob Skinner 0.
CLAY COUNTY (58): Tyler McDaniel 23, Zach McGeorge 11, Stephon Lyttle 6, Brandon Word 6, Steven Wagers 5, Zac Kemp 4, Kody Reed 3, Jordan White 0.