By Pat Turner
This basketball season has been a struggle for Clark.
Instead of being around the top of the standings like in seasons past, the Cougars have sputtered through the bottom half of District 28-6A. Clark has been competitive, but inexperience and inconsistency have haunted the Cougars, especially toward the end of contests.
Despite a buzzer-beater loss to Stevens and letting a fourth-quarter lead slip away against co-leader O’Connor, the Cougars (3-17, 2-6) have kept battling with hopes that better days are coming.
One of those good days occurred this past Friday as Clark used a well-balanced game led by Jason Osonma and a strong finish to register a 75-67 win over Jay (12-9, 4-4).
“This was a big win for us,” Clark coach Steve Sylestine said. “We’ve been in some close games. It was nice to win this one. We handled the pressure much better. I believe this will help our confidence.”
Osonma went into the game determined to make an impact. The sophomore accomplished what he set out to do and then some by recording a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. That effort lit a spark and complemented the contributions of Luke Gibson (13 points, seven rebounds), Truett Heintzelman (13 points) and Cooper Vanlandingham (12 points).
“I was reminding myself to always play hard,” Osonma said. “We have seniors who play hard every game. I wanted to follow in their footsteps.”
A flashy start benefitted Clark as the Cougars shot to a 17-4 lead, but Jay pulled within seven at the end of the first period on threes from Danny Amezquita, who finished with 16 points, and Marcus Alcaraz (19 points).
Jay staged another late run, but Clark managed to maintain a double-digit advantage (38-28).
Jay, which entered the match riding a three-game winning streak, got a quick lift at the beginning of the third quarter from Alcaraz, who’s 3-pointer, layup and two free throws brought the Mustangs within 42-40.
That’s when Clark began its strong finish.
Osonma got the Cougars going in the right direction with a follow shot. After Dalen Whitlock popped in a 3-pointer, Osonma ended the third quarter with a jumper to move Clark to a 50-42 lead.
“We’ve been in these situations before,” Osonma said. “We lost close games at the end in the past but we’re learning how to respond. We didn’t get fazed by them making a run. If they did something we responded every time.”
Clark didn’t lose its grip. Osonma continued to produce, hitting seven more points down the stretch, while Gibson and Heintzelman also delivered valuable offensive and defensive support.
Clark has serious climbing to do to get back in the playoff picture, but the Cougars are counting on the win over Jay to be the springboard.
“We’re still optimistic,” Osonma said. “This was a big win for us. We’ve been working hard every day in practice. We have to keep working.”
Finishing also benefitted Brandeis (13-7, 5-3), which moved into a tie for third with Warren (15-4, 5-3) after using a 21-10 fourth-period run for a 65-52 win over Stevens (12-8, 4-4).
Brandeis has a younger look this season and the inexperience has shown at times. However, Brandeis coach Marc Gardner is seeing maturity.
“We’re learning how to finish,” Gardner said. “In seven of the games we have had the lead in the fourth quarter. We have talked about being in the situation before and finishing. This game was big for us.”
The Broncos appeared to be in control of the contest after roaring to a 35-25 halftime lead. Tanner Brown ignited Brandeis’ quick start by nailing three 3-pointers and scoring 11 of the Broncos’ 19 first-half points. Jordan Wood also hit two threes during the building of a 19-10 lead while working the boards.
However, Stevens changed the outlook in the third period. Wood got into foul trouble and the Falcons made the most of the situation. In addition to holding the Broncos to nine points, the Falcons started hitting consistently with goals from Carlton Linguard, who led Stevens with 26 points, Jerene Batts and Khouri Perkins.
With the lead cut to 44-42, Brandeis had serious work to do to turn the momentum in its direction. The Broncos found a way.
Wood, Brown and Kyle Shaefer regained control of the boards, holding Stevens to one shot on several occasions. Wood also put in eight points, including three straight layups. Another boost came from Cordell Nunnery, who scored all seven of his points in the final quarter.
“We knew we needed to pick up our offense in the fourth quarter,” Wood said. “We started attacking more. I worked on finishing stronger at the basket.”
No doubt it worked.
“We tried to milk it as long as we could until we got Jordan back in,” Gardner said. “When we got him back, we were able to spread it our more. We had a stretch where Jason scored six points. That was the turning point I think.”
O’Connor (16-6, 7-1) and Brennan (15-6, 7-1) stayed at the head of the 28-6A class with solid work.
The Panthers earned a 60-50 win over Holmes (4-16, 2-6) and Brennan (15-6, 7-1) rolled past Warren (15-4, 5-3), 69-58.
O’Connor built a 32-22 halftime advantage and held the double-digit the lead the rest of the way with Brendan Wenzel (22 points) and Adam Benhayoune (11 points) delivering much of the offense. The Panthers also received their usual defensive backing from Brandon Jones and Isaac Orozo.
Holmes received 21 points from Robert Gil.
Brennan got into an early hole as Jayden Campos (16 points) and Kino Rodriguez-Thompson (15 points) pushed Warren to a 13-9 lead.
The Bears cut into Warren’s advantage in the second quarter and move in front, 26-23 with sharper offensive tactics.
Jacari Sanders (24 points) and Norman Beckford (23 points) energized Brennan even more during a 26-point burst in the third period to give the Bears a 52-40 lead.
That proved to be the difference as the Bears, who were also aided by a 14-point performance from Shaydon Campbell, stayed in front.
Sayvon Frye turned in the top scoring performance of the week as his 52 points paced Marshall to a 79-75 win over Taft.
Harlan lost its share of the District 28-5A lead with a 53-44 loss to Southwest.
Prior to the setback, the Hawks (11-9, 6-1) cruised to a 75-31 win over Southwest Legacy.
Jelen Hanspard, who scored 16 points against Southwest, chipped in 18 points. Ja’kobe Bailey helped with 16.