By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
Two key defensive stops and some clutch free throws by sophomore Charles Pemberton delivered an 87-85 overtime win for Clinton Community College over North Iowa Area Community College on Saturday.
After leading for almost the entire game on Sophomore Day, Clinton (8-19, 2-12 conference) was in a bad position late in the second half. With the game tied at 77, NIACC had the ball in the hands of the conference’s leading scorer, David Humphries, and the shot clock was off.
That’s when freshman Kimani Stevens came up big for the Cougars. He almost forced a five-second call, forcing NIACC to call a timeout with 13.9 seconds left. Then with 3.2 seconds left, Stevens forced Humphries to travel. Clinton’s desperation heave missed the mark, sending the game to overtime.
“We knew we couldn’t handle a loss,” Stevens said. “I just had to sit on him and play defense as hard as I could. We needed the win really bad.”
Clinton coach Joe Shovlain said: “That’s all about heart. Defense is plain heart and tenacity. That’s what Kimani is. That’s his game.”
Stevens scored the first basket of overtime on a putback after an offensive rebound. Every basket Clinton scored, NIACC answered. The Trojans tied the score for the fourth time in overtime with 40 seconds left at 85 on a layup by Sam Skogen.
With 15.5 seconds left, Pemberton — who was 1-of-5 from the free-throw line — was fouled and sent to the free-throw line for two shots. He made both.
“I prayed,” Pemberton said. “I definitely did. I just tried to calm myself down, slow down my breathing. I took my time and bent my knees and I hit it.”
Then it was time for the Cougars’ defense to step up again. This time it was sophomore Richard Hurt guarding Humphries. Hurt cut off Humphries’ drive to the basket and then blocked his field-goal attempt.
“I sat down on my player,” Hurt said. “He was coming and he could shoot, so I just came over and jumped up. I deflected the shot a little bit. I just tipped it, so it wouldn’t go in.”
Pemberton grabbed the rebound to seal the win, which gave Clinton a .500 record at home during the season at 7-7.
“It’s a big win, especially because it’s Sophomore Day,” Pemberton said. “This is the last time we’ll ever play together as a team in this gym. It’s the last time, we’ll warm up downstairs and get hype. We wanted to come out and get a win. Now we’ll rejoice for the rest of the weekend.”
Hurt said: “We’ve been hoping for wins all season, but sometimes we didn’t get them. On Sophomore Day, the sophomores had to come out — it was our last game — and give the fans something.”
A key for the Cougars all game was their dominance on the glass. In overtime, Stevens grabbed four rebounds, his teammates combined for four and NIACC had three.
“We knew we were capable of getting all the rebounds,” Stevens said. “That’s my game. I love to rebound.”
For the game, Clinton won the rebounding battle 51-36, behind a game-high 16 from Pemberton. Pemberton, who also blocked four shots, finished the season as the conference leader in rebounds and blocks.
“From the time I was young, before I was even good at basketball, the one thing I could do was rebound and block shots,” Pemberton said. “When they shoot the ball, I can read where it’s going to come off, so I know where to be and how to position myself. Then I just go for it.”
The Cougars helped themselves by starting well, scoring the first seven points of the game.
“I think the good start was a combination of things,” Shovlain said. “It was Sophomore Day, so our guys were very motivated. I really think these four guys — and adding Charles this year — have really helped us build respect again. They were ready to play. Coupled with that, you have NIACC after a very long bus ride. That’s a tough trip.”
Pemberton scored on a putback, Hurt drilled a 3-pointer and sophomore Virshaun Grant scored a layup in transition for a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
“We made it our goal to come out harder than the other team,” Pemberton said. “We wanted everybody to be focused and play their hardest for the whole 40 minutes. Everybody gave 100 percent for the whole game.”
NIACC (19-11, 6-8) responded and took a brief lead at 13-11, but then the Cougars went on a 10-2 run capped by back-to-back 3-pointers from Hurt and Grant. Grant, who finished with 11 points, scored nine of Clinton’s first 21.
“We were trying to build a lead to start off good,” Grant said. “I just tried to be more effective scoring-wise.”
“It was the last game. We wanted to go all-out and bring a lot of energy.”
Every time NIACC made a run, Clinton had the answer.
“I think that’s something you develop over time as you gain confidence — the ability to answer,” Shovlain said. “It’s a building process. From the Kirkwood game (Feb. 13) to here, we’ve matured. The same thing happened against Kirkwood. They had to come back. Then at the end of the game, they made their shots and we missed ours. We weren’t able to answer that run and lost by eight.”
Clinton’s leading scorer on the season, freshman Xzavion Jones, led the Cougars with 21 points, but also led the team with seven assists.
“We talked to him (earlier) in the week,” Shovlain said. “We said, ‘Xzavion, you’re going to be one of the elite players in the league next year. You’re already well-known, so the scouting reports are on you.’ We told him he had to work harder to get open off screens to create opportunities for himself and then opportunities for others. He did a great job with it.”
One of those assists came on a highlight-reel play by Pemberton. Jones lobbed an inbound pass from the baseline to Pemberton, who thunderously slammed it down with both hands for a 28-21 Clinton lead with five minutes left before halftime.
“We’ve been practicing it for a while,” Pemberton said. “Usually it’s not open because they try to clog the lane. I got a good screen from one of my guys and it was wide open.”
Pemberton also had an impressive play in the defensive end. He was running back to get into position and intercepted an alley-oop pass in overtime.
“When I was running down, I saw the big guy get ready to go for the oop,” he said. “I saw the eye contact between them. ... I took off and I met it at the rim.”
Clinton opens the regional tournament Tuesday at top-seeded Iowa Lakes, but the Cougars feel good after this win.
“It was a big win going into tournament play,” Grant said. “We needed the win at home to build momentum. It was a good team win.”
Hurt said: “We know what we’re capable of on any night. We just need to come out even harder.”
CLINTON CC 87, NIACC 85 (OT)
NIACC (19-11, 6-8) — Mike Wagner 5-10 2-2 14, Alec Saunders 0-1 0-0 0, David Humphries 8-18 2-4 21, Sam Skogen 3-7 4-4 10, Josiah Lee 0-3 0-0 0, Matthew Don 7-10 3-4 18, Chris Davis 7-18 1-3 18, Braxton Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Matt McKenzie 0-0 0-0 0, Mohamed Mohamed 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 32-70 12-17 85.
CLINTON CC (8-19, 2-12) — Virshaun Grant 4-12 2-2 11, Richard Hurt 6-17 2-2 16, Xzavion Jones 8-18 3-4 21, Kimani Stevens 4-7 0-0 8, James Randolph 4-7 0-0 8, Charles Pemberton 7-9 3-7 17, Dane Barun 1-1 0-0 2, BeeJay Caleb 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 36-75 10-15 87.
Halftime score — Clinton 37, NIACC 33. Regulation score — Clinton 77, NIACC 77. 3-point goals — NIACC 9-27 (Humphries 3-7, Davis 3-11, Wagner 2-5, Don 1-1, Skogen 0-3); Clinton 5-21 (Jones 2-7, Hurt 2-8, Grant 1-5, Randolph 0-1). Total fouls — NIACC 16; Clinton 16. Fouled out — None. Technical foul — NIACC coach Mark Mohl. Rebounds — NIACC 36 (Don 12, Humphries 8); Clinton 51 (Pemberton 16, Stevens 11). Assists — NIACC 13 (Lee 3); Clinton 17 (Jones 7, Grant 5). Steals — NIACC 8 (Davis 3); Clinton 8 (Hurt 2, Jones 2, Caleb 2). Blocks — NIACC 4 (Don 3); Clinton 5 (Pemberton 4). Turnovers — NIACC 16; Clinton 19.