Bob Jones edges James Clemens to secure spot at regionals, chance at area tournament title
By Caleb Odom
DECATUR — The Bob Jones boys basketball team found a way to advance to the Friday area tournament championship game edging James Clemens 43-40 Wednesday at Austin High School.
The victory secured a spot in the regionals for the Patriots along with a showdown against a formidable Austin team that ran over Florence 90-58 in the second Wednesday game.
In a low-scoring affair, Bob Jones leaned on Malachi Mitchell who finished with 11 points and Dylan Willingham’s 9-point night to get past the Jets.
“I’m extremely proud of our young men,” Bob Jones head coach Luther Tiggs said.
“I’m tickled to death. It’s been seven long years since we have had an opportunity to play in a regional tournament. But I feel like we have still got some unfinished business.”
James Clemens had a solid scoring night from Keenan Walker who ended up with 12.
The first quarter was tight with the Patriots narrowly ahead at 8-6.
Shots were clanking the iron, passes were missed and fouls in either direction sent the crowd into a rage as the Jets possessed a 17-15 advantage at halftime.
“We just had to slow it down and play with poise,” Willingham said.
The Patriots might not have been making all that many shots, but it was clear that Mitchell was influencing the game with rebounding and sheer athleticism.
“Malachi’s motor runs. It never stops running. He is one of those guys who can play 32 minutes, probably play 50 minutes,” Tiggs said.
When a James Clemens shot rattled off the backboard, Mitchell would launch himself vertically to snag the unclaimed ball.
With 6:56 to play in the third quarter, Mitchell hit a 2-pointer that gave Bob Jones the 19-17 lead after Patriot point guard Sean Paul had made back to back free-throws to knot the contest at 17-17.
James Clemens wasn’t going quietly into the night though, trailing just 27-23 by the end of the fourth quarter.
The Jets crept closer at the 6:49 mark when Payden Roper drained a 2-point basket to make it 27-25 Patriots.
Just when it seemed that the momentum had shifted, Mitchell was there to shut it down with a dagger of a 3-pointer that pushed the score up to 30-25 at 6:26.
The fourth quarter had become a hardwood slugfest when James Clemens playmaker Keenan Walker put his stamp on the game with an echoing dunk that threatened to bring the gym down at 5:51 and the score now 30-27 Bob Jones in front.
The Jets were right there so many times, like the Julian Boose field goal that cut the Patriot lead to just one point at 32-31 with 5:01 to play.
Bob Jones would seemingly always answer.
The clock ticked down to 4:36 and the Patriots found Sean Morgan deep in the corner and he buried a clutch 3-pointer that made the gym explode with a mixture of joy and contempt at the 35-31 score.
Time was running out and Bob Jones was clinging to a 40-38 lead when Mitchell drove toward the rim with 40 seconds to go, only to be denied by a couple of James Clemens defenders under the basket.
“One bad shot, we can’t dwell on that one play,” Mitchell said.
“We have to get to the next one. I think we did a good job as a team of continuing to execute and look for the next play.”
With 7.2 seconds remaining, Jets junior Bryce Mason made a massive 2-point shot that gave James Clemens a sliver of hope with the score at 42-40 Patriots.
A foul with 3.3 only gave the Patriots one additional point on a free-throw to make it 43-40 Bob Jones.
This was it.
James Clemens had the ball with 2.5 seconds to go and the length of the court to traverse.
A football-style lob pass over mid-court found the hands of Mason who instantly called timeout for the Jets.
The only problem was the officials didn’t seem too keen to stop the game.
Both benches were going wild and the fans were in an uproar as brief confusion began to fill the gym.
“We told them when they throw the ball to halfcourt we are going to call timeout,” James Clemens head coach Frankie Sullivan said.
“But you can’t blame the stripes for that. You know, I don’t agree with a lot of things that happened tonight, but at the same time, the kids have got to play the game.”
The officials did grant the timeout and James Clemens had the ball at halfcourt with 1.2 seconds to play.
Down 43-40, the Jets watched a final shot taken by Mason miss its mark and Bob Jones had survived.
“We did just enough and I’m proud of our guys for the win so we’ll move on,” Tiggs said as his Patriots prepare for Austin on Friday.
On the other side of the court, it was the end of the road for James Clemens.
“We didn’t play well at all,” Sullivan said.
“It comes down to execution. My guys still fought hard. That’s what I love about them, they are going to fight until the end.”
Mason and the Jets go home disappointed, but they take with them something to build on.
“We believed until the final seconds on the board,” Mason said.
“I just played hard. I wish our seniors would come back. I’m going to miss them for sure.”
Bob Jones takes on the Black Bears at Austin High School Friday at 7 p.m.