Three straight impressive victories had set DeWitt Clinton High School on a likely path to the postseason. And with a matchup last Friday against a Morris High School team that has struggled most of the season, a fourth straight victory for the Governors appeared to be in the cards.
No one saw this one coming.
Morris got 31 points from senior Tony Harvey and it was just too much for Clinton to overcome as Morris posted a 50-46 upset, creating a major obstacle that could block the Governors’ postseason plans.
“We just didn’t get it done, and that one hurts,” Clinton head coach Chris Ballerini said after the loss. “I give a lot of credit to their guys, and the better team won tonight.”
With Morris coming into the game toting a dismal 3-9 season record, the outcome was somewhat stunning for a Clinton team that had posted consecutive wins over Longwood, Evander and Stevenson. But now that streak is history.
“It’s a tough loss but we’re going to bounce back,” said Jordan Whitehead, who scored a team-high 13 points for Clinton. “I felt like I was the better player (over my opponent). If I got more touches I would have been able to do more. I tried to give it my all, but it’s too bad that we couldn’t come out and get the win.”
After starting the game off on a 9-0 run, Clinton’s offense took a turn for the worse on their way to converting just seven field goals in the first half and heading into the locker room at halftime down 22-16.
“We didn’t come out after the first couple of minutes,” said Clinton forward Ron Griffith. “I tried to hype my team up, but it was a long fight for us and we struggled to score.”
Offense wasn’t the only issue, Ballerini said.
“We had a little bit more energy” in the second half, the coach said. “I thought we were going through the motions in this game, and against good teams we’re unable to maintain energy. That’s the main problem we’ve had all year, and it kind of reared its ugly head at a really important moment of the season.”
Looking to turn things around in the fourth quarter, Clinton’s Griffith and Taijon Johnson led a comeback attempt by the Governors. Johnson knotted the game at 37 with three minutes remaining on the third of his three layups. Then it was Griffith’s turn to show up.
The highly versatile guard splashed his second three-pointer of the quarter with a minute left in the game, bringing Clinton within 44-42, and hope was alive.
“I didn’t play as good in the first half, but I had to pick it up in the fourth to help my team try to win,” Griffith said.
Regardless of Clinton’s resurgence in the fourth, it was Harvey — averaging just over 20 points per game this season — who proved too much for Clinton. Harvey sank buzzer-beating three-pointers in each of the first three quarters, providing momentum boosts for Morris each time. The senior also capitalized on two key free throw attempts during the intentional foul-ridden final minute to help seal the deal for Morris.
Clinton now sits at 5-7 on the season, making each of their last four games more crucial than ever. Clinton’s next two contests will come on the road, at Bronx Science on Jan. 28 and at Roosevelt Jan. 30.
“We have four to go and need to go 3-1 to make the playoffs,” Ballerini said. “It’s still mathematically possible, but we have to perform better and play at a much higher level.”
Optimism surrounds the team, however.
“We can’t lose faith,” Whitehead said. “We still have four games left, we can still make the playoffs. It isn’t over yet.”
For Griffith, unity will allow Clinton to achieve its playoff aspirations.
“We’ll be fine, we just need to run through the rest of our opponents,” Griffith said. “We need to stick together and have good-chemistry, no-selfish basketball.”