The basketball played at Clinton High School’s gymnasium on Friday night wasn’t elegant or, except in rare moments, particularly graceful.
It was hard-fought with bare knuckles in both games, particularly in the boys’ nightcap, which Laurens won, 65-60. Clinton won the girls’ game, 48-43. The gym was close to full. The crowd was fully loud.
It seems, at times, as if high school football has reached the point where the scores are higher than basketball. The contest between the Raiders and Red Devils had more contact than some football games.
It was old school.
Seldom does a player work harder for 27 points than Clinton’s J.D. Payne. He won a fierce battle against Laurens’ aggressive man-to-man defense, but the Raiders, led by Dee Foster with 19, won the war this night. The Laurens County rivals will gird their loins again next week at LDHS.
“This is one of the reasons I pursued this job,” said the Raiders’ head coach, Ryan Walker, who is in his second season. “It’s a community school, and the great thing is you’ve got two schools in this community. These guys know each other. They play each other. They compete for their high schools, and they’ve got pride, and it’s all out, and it shows on the football field, the basketball court, and it showed tonight.”
The game was close, fast and rough from opening tap to the series of Laurens free throws that clinched it. Laurens led by a point after one quarter, Clinton led by two at the half, and the game was tied after three.
Walker had nothing but praise for Payne, who was almost unstoppable but mortal at the end.
“J.D. is an all-state guard, and he’s going to be a college basketball player at some level,” he said. “Our thing with a player like that is make him earn it.”
That the Raiders (3-3) did.
“We’re taking steps to becoming a winning basketball team,” Walker added. “To win in this environment was great. I love this for our kids. I love it for the Clinton kids. It’s just special.”
It probably wasn’t quite as special for Clinton’s Eddie Romines, whose Red Devils are 0-2. He couldn’t fault his team’s effort, either, though.
“There was a lot of contact,” Romines said. “I thought the referees let ’em play. They beat us like a drum on the boards in the fourth quarter, and we’ve got to be more physical. Underneath, at crunch time, we’ve got to be tougher.”
The rematch is at LDHS in a week. On Tuesday, the Raiders play at Hillcrest and the Red Devils visit Chester.
Clinton’s resurgent girls led most of the way against the Raiders but seldom by much. The Red Devils (4-0) won it on balance. Terriauna Bennett led the way with 17 points. Payton Price-Walker added 14, and De’Shanti Watts scored 12.
Diamond Pressley led the Raiders (1-3) with 17. Laurens seemed incapable of making shots in the lane. LDHS shot 18.3 percent from the floor three nights after hitting 21.3 percent against Hillcrest. Clinton outrebounded the Raiders, 55-48, but free throws were not the Red Devils’ friend. Clinton hit just seven out of 24 at the line and committed 26 turnovers, as well.
Watts was hot in the first quarter but spent the rest of the night in foul trouble.
“What I was proud about is that it seems like every night, somebody else steps up,” Clinton head coach John Gardner said. “Against Brashier, Savanna (Campbell) goes off for 21. At Chapman, De’Shanti scores 33. Tonight, Terriauna scores 17. Payton Price-Walker steps up with 14.
“That’s the definition of a team: having each others’ back. I’m proud of them. Rivalry games aren’t always pretty. This was probably the biggest crowd we’ll play in front of all year, and I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty.”
Laurens (65): Dravious Copeland 9, Amaiji Hill 15, Christian Anderson 2, J’Von Harris 4, Leonard Williams 9, Jordan Woodruff 4, Dee Foster 19, Shamare Dendy 3. Field goals: 25-68. Free throws: 12-20. Rebounds: 45. Turnovers: 10.
Clinton (60): J.D. Payne 27, Ahmari Bates 19, P.J. Bluford 4, Kimon Quarles 1, Davis Wilson 2, Titus Hood 2, Sam Tiller 2, Elijah Campbell 3. Field goals: 22-56. Free throws: 11-21. Rebounds: 38. Turnovers: 22.
Laurens (43): Kanaja Burnside 2, Qua Fortson 9, Raniya Jackson 6, Mikajia Moore 6, Diamond Pressley 17, Aija Davis 2, Precious Grant 1. Field goals: 11-60. Free throws: 13-24. Rebounds: 48. Turnovers: 22.
Clinton (48): Taneal Evans 2, Dana Kinard 2, De’Shanti Watts 12, Payton Price-Walker 14, Terriauna Bennett 17, Tinique Austin 1. Field goals: 20-56. Free throws: 7-24. Rebounds: 55. Turnovers: 26.