Clinton’s boys basketball team spent the first 10 minutes of its season-opening game Monday playing like it had been waiting an eternity to return to the floor.
The Cougars spent the final 10 minutes of the night holding on for dear life.
They saw their 17-point first-half lead dwindle down to a single point in the closing minutes against a pesky Delavan-Darien team. But Clinton got 24 points from senior Zach Krause and never gave in, preserving a 68-63 nonconference home victory.
“The perseverance (showed)—mentally, they were still in the game,” Cougars coach John Gracyalny said. “They did what they had to do to take it home.”
Caleb Gracyalny buried three long-range 3-pointers in the opening four minutes, and the Cougars used an 11-2 run in the middle of the second half to build a 30-13 lead. But the Comets didn’t let the early deficit faze them.
Clinton suspected its hot shooting would force Delavan-Darien out of its 2-3 zone defense. But the Comets didn’t give in, instead making a few small adjustments that slowed down and frustrated a Cougars team that would prefer to push the pace.
“I thought our guys did a good job, because it’s easy in a game like that just to fold,” said Comets coach Chris Hembrook, who watched his players hit nine 3-pointers while not allowing a Clinton made 3 after the first 10 minutes. “I’d like to have a victory, but I’ll take the way we battled any day.”
Clinton led by 11 at the break and by 13 when Gracyalny (17 points) made a quick bucket out of the break.
But Delavan-Darien refused to go away. It went on a 14-6 run from there to get within five points, a margin the Comets achieved four separate times before finally getting even closer with under three minutes to play.
There, senior Christian Wichman made two free throws and then buried a 3-pointer off a Dakota Williams steal that cut Clinton’s lead to one point, 56-55.
The Comets had a chance to tie or take the lead on their next possession but turned the ball over. Cougars senior Eric Paschke then made his only basket of the night, calmly hitting a free-throw-line jumper off an inbound pass to make it 59-55 with 1:15 left.
“That might have been the biggest shot of the game,” John Gracyalny said.
The Comets were back within three, 63-60, with 26 seconds left. Coming out of a timeout and with Clinton facing a full-court press, Krause set a quick screen at the free-throw line then slipped quickly into the front court, caught a long pass, made the layup and was intentionally fouled. He made both free throws to put the game on ice.
“We came out with a lot of energy ... and knew we had to go back to that,” said Krause, who had 15 second-half points. “We just had to be more aggressive driving the basket.
“Now we’ve got a big game Thursday.”
Clinton opens Rock Valley Conference play at home against Evansville. Delavan-Darien (0-3) plays at Milton in a nonconference game Monday.
CLINTON 68, DELAVAN-DARIEN 63
Delavan-Darien (63)—Rios 6-0-14, Ruesch 0-2-2, Grabow 2-3-7, Wichman 4-3-4, Hembrook 3-0-6, Williams 2-1-6, Morales 1-1-3, Crull 3-4-11. Totals: 20-14-63.
Clinton (68)—Anastasi 1-4-6, Halsted 2-0-4, Weisensel 1-3-6, Gracyalny 5-4-17, Krause 9-6-24, Paschke 1-3-5, Mullooly 1-0-2, Ballmer 2-0-4. Totals: 22-20-68.
Delavan-Darien 23 40—63
Clinton 34 34—68
Three-point goals—Delavan-Darien 9 (Wichman 3, Hembrooks 2, Rios 2, Williams, Crull), Clinton 4 (Gracyalny 3, Weisensel). Free throws missed—Delavan-Darien 13, Clinton 9. Total fouls—Delavan-Darien 22, Clinton 22. Fouled out—Wichman, Crull.