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By: Eric Van Dril | Jan. 19, 2017
Several moments had passed after Clark had defeated Wells 55-48 to move into a tie atop the Blue-West when the yelling began.
Multiple Clark players yelled inside of a room near the gymnasium at Clark, and then in quick succession ran jubilantly into the gymnasium.
“We’re going to the White!” a player yelled, smiling, as he did so.
The cause for celebration was simple.
Clark had just learned that Phoenix, whom beat the Eagles by 13 earlier this month, had been upset by Austin. Therefore, the assumption that Clark, Phoenix and Wells were locked into a three-way tie atop the Blue-West was incorrect.
Phoenix’s loss meant only the Eagles and Raiders are currently 4-1 in the Blue-West, and the Eagles now own the tiebreaker over Wells because of their victory earlier in the night.
A conference championship doesn’t necessarily mean that Clark will move up to the White-West, given that promotion and relegation won’t take place this year due to pending re-alignment. But the Eagles now control their own path to winning the Blue-West.
“It was a real big game for us,” Clark junior guard Jermey Smith said. “We all understood that we needed this win. That’s why we came out with the intensity that we did.”
Ultra-versatile freshman Demarius Splunge agreed.
“That (Phoenix game) was the game we were not supposed to lose,” Splunge, who finished with a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds, said. “We took all our anger out on Wells to (try to) win this conference.”
Clark played with an edge all game long inside of its small, loud gymnasium.
It used its length to bother Wells. The Raiders committed 21 turnovers. They shot 12-for-53 (22.6 percent) from the field. Junior guard Antwone Lampkin, who is capable of scoring over 30 points any night, finished with 18.
Half of Lampkin’s points were scored on free-throws.
“He put 40 up against Phoenix,” Smith said. “We understood that (Lampkin) is the guy that beat the team that beat us, so we’ve got to stop him from beating us.”
Splunge added: “We really turned our defense up because when we played Phoenix, our defense was kind of slacking. We were leaving lanes open, and they were getting wide-open shots. But this game, we were tight on our defense. … We practiced for Wells for like a week straight. We had to lock in on defense. We only worked on defense.”
Clark guarded Lampkin effectively. It also out-rebounded Wells 41-25.
Splunge grabbed 10 rebounds. The 6-foot-6 freshman, who said he can play every position, did something of everything on Wednesday night. He only missed one field-goal attempt. He handled the ball. He got to the basket and scored deftly. He even hit a 3-pointer.
“I believe he’s the No. 1 freshman in Chicago,” Smith (nine points, seven steals) said. “I love that kid with all my heart. That’s my brother.”
Joe Turner, meanwhile, performed his role very well. The 6-foot-6 junior forward’s length made it difficult for Wells to score on the interior. He also rebounded strongly.
Turner, who scored nine points, grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
“That’s what I do: rebounding,” Turner said. Beating Wells “was really (big) to come back from the Phoenix loss. It took our all to win this.”
It also took a team effort.
Clark had many different players contribute. Junior guard Prentiss Alexander grabbed seven rebounds. Junior guard Vashawn Buchanan had 10 points. Junior guard Danny Jones finished with six points. Freshman guard Kobe Lyons wasn’t able to hit any of his 3-pointers, but he scored two field goals in the paint and created well for his teammates.
Together, they put Clark in position to win the Blue-West and, potentially, move up to a more-difficult conference next season. How the Chicago Public League’s basketball conferences will be re-aligned remains to be seen, but the young Eagles — with three freshmen and eight juniors on their roster — said they are ready to move up and face more-difficult competition.
The Eagles want to move up “to get the freshmen publicity and exposure,” Turner said, “so we can be great (and) to put this school back on the map.”
Clark knew it was crucial to slow Lampkin, according to Smith, and the Eagles did everything they could to slow down the electric 5-foot-6 guard.
They face guarded Lampkin, at times. They sent length flying toward him when he drove to the basket. They swarmed him at every opportunity.
“The secret’s out that he can shoot the ball,” Wells coach Michael Horton said. “Not only (was Clark) face-guarding, but because he’s a relative unknown and we don’t get the greatest referees, there’s a lot of holding and pulling. It’s not like they’re guarding him well. But that will be rectified.”
Wells and Clark won’t play again in the regular season, but they could meet in next month’s conference tournament.
If that happens, Horton expressed confidence that the result would be different.
“I think it came down to (defense and rebounding) and then costly turnovers. We had a few unforced turnovers,” Horton said, of his team’s seven-point loss. “But I’m not really worried about that. … I had like four 6-foot-5 guys I didn’t play for disciplinary reasons, so I’m not worried about that. When we have this conference tournament and we have an opportunity to see them again, that will be nullified.”
Horton continued: “We’re going to put more pressure. We kind of laid back. We’re going to put more pressure. I saw they’re going to run a lot of sets where they face-guard my scorer, so we’ll run a lot of sets where we do screening off of the ball. We’ll be fine.”
Lampkin finished with a game-high 18 points. Junior guard Mentrell Roddy finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. Senior point guard Zontrell Jones also had 10.
Wells closes out its conference slate with home games against Juarez and Crane. Clark wraps up by traveling to Chicago Tech later this week, and then Austin on Wednesday, Jan. 25.