Clairton holds off Carmichaels
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Bryon Clifford knows how to make a statement.
At the end of the first and second quarters against Carmichaels, the senior guard hit buzzer-beating shots and helped Clairton (9-5, 6-0) open a 19-point halftime lead en route to a 51-42 Section 4-A victory over the Mikes.
“I have to make sure that I have my feet set and that I at least try to make it,” Clifford said. “I don't just try to just throw it up there because that could turn out ugly and end up going over the hoop or something. I try to take my time and, it might look like I rushed it, but I didn't.”
Clifford led the Bears with 15 points and has 912 in his career. Considering he is averaging around 19 points per game this season, he could become the first Clairton player since the turn of the century to reach 1,000 career points sometime near the season finale at Monessen on Feb. 9.
“It means a lot,” Clifford said. “I'm trying to reach that milestone. It takes a lot to score 1,000 points, and I'm just waiting for it to come. I just have to be patient and let it come.”
Patience was not one of Clairton's virtues against Carmichaels as the team turned up a full-court pressure defense throughout the first half. The Bears forced 11 turnovers in the first two quarters as Clifford scored 10 points and Tyler Boyd nine before intermission.
“We made them play at our pace, and we're a fast team and we made them run a lot,” Boyd said. “Some of our boys got really tired because we pressed the whole game and we should have sagged off a little bit and caught our breath. In the second half we got a little tired and, I'm not going to lie, I got tired myself, but we're taught to fight through that.”
Clairton's basketball conditioning still isn't quite where it would be had the football team not won its fourth consecutive PIAA Class A championship on Dec. 14. This was the first time all season that the Bears had the full contingent of players they will head into the postseason with, and it became painfully obvious just how far the team has to go to play a whole game at full speed.
As good as Clairton was in the first half — the team was 15 of 30 from the floor and was active all over the court — in the third quarter the team made only 1 of 11 field goals (9.1 percent) and allowed Carmichaels to crawl back into the game.
“That was the best that our full-court pressure has been all year and, in a way, I'm kind of glad they made it close in the second half because we need to learn how to win a close game,” Clairton coach Matt Geletko said. “If we are to get to where we need to be, we have to win games like this down the stretch and I was happy with the way we played, especially offensively.”
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