By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After opening the game on a 15-3 run, fifth-seeded Clever saw its lead whittled down to just five points by the end of the first quarter.
The Blue Jays defense forced five Wheatland turnovers and junior Allie Clevenger scored 10-straight points to open the second quarter, however, and Clever rolled to a 73-37 win on Wednesday night in the first round of the Pink & White Lady Classic white division at O’Reilly Family Event Center in Springfield.
Clevenger’s scoring burst put the Blue Jays ahead 29-14 with 4:58 left in the second quarter after Wheatland had cut the lead to 19-14 at the end of the first. She finished the game with five three-pointers and led all scorers with 25 points, while teammate Harper Little, a senior, connected on five three pointers herself and scored 22.
“Clevenger, she’s shooting 52 percent on the year,” head coach Dan Jones said. “She’s been solid. Harper’s been shooting really good lately, too. They spent the last four days in the gym on the gun so they did a whole lot of shooting. That’s been really good for us too. When they’re on, we’re pretty tough when they’re knocking down threes.”
Wheatland coach Jeremiah Bryan said his game plan was to stop Clevenger and Little.
“Know where they are at all times, cheat over towards them so when they catch the ball you’re contesting the shot,” he said. “We just lost focus a little bit at times. The moment got a little bigger than us.”
The Mules managed to stay within 15 points by halftime, trailing 34-19, but Clever’s lead quickly grew to 20-plus points in the third quarter with Clever senior Tessa Newman helping out on the offensive end early and senior Abi Menzies scoring a couple baskets late. The Blue Jays led 58-33 after three.
Clever added a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter.
“A team like this, we can’t have very many mistakes in a row because they’ll capitalize,” Bryan said. “They’re just too good. The first quarter I felt like we played pretty well. We were down 10 points pretty quick and came back and fought a little bit. Second quarter we had those five turnovers in a row and started to deflate a little bit. Going into half we had a game plan of handling the ball a little better, calming down, contesting the threes a little better. We’d rather them beat us outside than inside because they’ve got height on us. They beat us on the outside. We just didn’t close out well enough on defense or block out well enough.”
Jones said he was most pleased with his team’s defensive intensity, at least for stretches.
“I would have liked to stay a little more up-tempo with our defensive pressure and I’ve got a couple good players coming off the bench but defensively we just can’t keep that same kind of intensity,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job of finding those spurts where we can do things like that.”
Menzies was Clever’s third scorer in double figures, finishing with 14 points. Wheatland was led by senior Madi Sutt, who scored 16. Freshman Taylor Hunt added nine.
Clever, 10-2, will play in the quarterfinals at 9 p.m. Thursday against either Lutheran North or Camdenton, who played Wednesday’s late game. That game will be at the O’Reilly Family Event Center. Wheatland, 6-3, will play the loser at 9 p.m. at Weiser Gym.