Trailing by two headed to the fourth quarter, the Abilene Cowboys turned the tables on much improved Clay Center Tigers to out score them 21-11 in the final eight minutes. In doing so, the Cowboys completed the season sweep with a 69-61 win to snap a two-game losing streak.
Abilene used a 12-0 run to begin the final period to grab a 10-point lead with 2:27 left to play. But don’t sleep on the Tigers. They have been playing as good of basketball as anyone in the conference lately. The Tigers were extremely hot in the third quarter when they found their range from outside after the Cowboys started strong to take a 10-point lead 37-27 with less than two minutes gone in the period.
Clay Center senior guard Isaac Lee and sophomore Mark Hoffman started popping in threes and before the Cowboys knew it, the Tigers had out scored them 23-11 the rest of the way to take a 50-48 lead to the fourth.
“We haven’t had good third quarters the last three games,” Abilene head coach Erik Graefe said. “I thought we might have had that remedied as we hit them early to take a 10-point lead but they have some kids that can score and they hit some big shots. That’s a good team. I love their coach and the way they are doing it. Those kids have all bought in to his system and what they are doing. It’s a pretty good win for us and we needed it.”
Clay Center battled the entire game and wanted nothing more than to upset the Cowboys on their home court. Abilene led 31-18 with two and one half minutes to play in the first half when the Tigers regrouped and went on a 9-0 run to pull within four 31-27 at the break.
Kaleb Becker led the Cowboys with a game 23 points while Isaac Lee finished with 22 for Clay Center. Avery Bryson added 19 and Josh Stuber had 17 for the Cowboys in the win.
“We made some big shots tonight,” Graefe said. “The threes we made tonight were huge. It kept the momentum going for us. Everybody stepped up behind Kaleb tonight and played hard especially down the stretch. We’ve got to figure out a way to slow those two guards down if we see them again this year. It’s a weird dynamic – it could happen. Clay Center did some funky defenses against us tonight. I’m going to my assistant coaches and asking what the heck are they doing trying to figure out how to attack it. Everyone throws their best punch at Abilene in this conference.
“This was such a team win,” coach Graefe added. “There was a time out late there where I handed the white board to Kyle (assistant coach Kyle Taylor) and asked him to draw up a particular play. He is our X’s and O’s guy – he knows all about that. He drew it up and we got a good look at them. Coach (Tyler) Bryson is so awesome too. I’m just really fortunate to have those guys working with me. We even had coach Mark Willey come by this week to speak to us. So, we will take all the help we can get.
“I am so proud of our guys. You think about that stretch to open the fourth quarter that put us by 10 again and then how we started the game, we kind of book-ended. I don’t know if it is possible to play at that level for 32 minutes, but it would be a pretty big game. There for a while we would start out like we did tonight and then we wouldn’t see it again but I guess you play long enough it will show back up.”
Abilene goes to 9-5 on the season and will travel to Chapman on Tuesday before closing out the regular season Thursday by hosting Concordia.
“I know Chapman had a tough game against Wamego on Thursday and then they have to go to Marysville tonight,” Graefe said. “They will be good. This league is crazy this year. Every night you have to come ready to play or you will get in trouble.”
Contact Ron Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abilene 69, Clay Center 61
Clay Center 16 11 23 11 – 61
Abilene 21 10 17 21 – 69
Clay Center – Floersh 4, I. lee 22, Hoffman 18, Glaves 6, DeMars 2, Fredrick 9. Totals: 16 (8) 5-7 61.
Abilene (9-5) – Coup 2, Stuber 17, McVan 6, J. west 2, Bryson 19, Becker 23. Totals: 19 (7) 10-17 69.