By Ben Murphy
Coleman’s buzzer beating three-pointer fell just off the mark Monday night, hitting the rim and bouncing out harmlessly to the floor. The Clare Pioneers breathed in a sigh of relief, escaping with a 56-53 home non-conference boys’ basketball win.
“They’re always scrappy,” Clare head coach Rob Wise said of Coleman. “Their zone defense is good, they take out a lot of passing lanes. They always play up for Clare so it’s always a good one with Coleman.”
The two sides traded slim leads for most of the night but it was Coleman that led 44-41 mid-way through the fourth quarter.
Colton Punches buried a three-pointer for the Pioneers to tie it at 44-all, and though the Comets would take its last lead at 49-46, back-to-back lay-ups by Scott Smith put Clare up for good at 50-49 with just under three minutes to play.
Two free throws by Smith and a lay-in by Mason Packard out of an in-bounds play put Clare up 54-51 with 40 seconds left.
Coleman got a hoop by Dylan Haller to cut the gap to 54-53 and the Comets regained possession after Clare missed the front-end of a one-and-one the other way.
Coleman had a go-ahead basket fall off the mark with just six seconds left, and the Comets were set to launch another potential game-winner after getting their own rebound but Smith alertly stole the ball from the Comets and was quickly fouled.
Smith hit both of his ensuing free-throws to give Clare the 56-53 lead, which the Pioneers made stand after Coleman’s game tying shot missed.
“The three point Punches hit was huge,” Wise said. “Our team was kind of dead before that but he stepped up and hit that, it was just huge. Then Smith had a huge steal and made both of those free-throws at the end. This team, they have such good chemistry and they just found a way to win.”
Early on a Connor Clickner gave Clare a 6-4 lead in the first quarter, with Travis Vida and Punches also hitting treys and Packard added a lay-in on a pass from Punches to make the Pioneer lead 16-12 after the first quarter.
Coleman took a 17-16 edge on a three by Lars Murray but a drive by Packard and put-back by Seth Harton put Clare up 20-17.
Murray tied the game at 20-all with another three and Coleman took leads of 22-20 and 24-22 until put-back baskets by Smith and Packard gave the Pioneers a 26-24 edge at the half.
Coleman twice took three point leads in the third quarter, but Punches and Packard had back-to-back hoops to give Clare a 33-32 mid-way through the frame.
Max Swan scored a physical lay-up to put Clare up 37-35 late in the quarter but Coleman tied the game just before the period ended, getting a lay-up by Matt Warner.
Coleman took the biggest lead by either team at 42-37 on a fourth quarter three by Jarid Walton, but Clickner answered for Clare by hitting two straight shots from the left-elbow to make it 42-41.
Walton hit a deep two-pointer to extend Coleman’s lead back to three at 44-41, setting up Punches’ tying three-pointer.
“Coleman is scrappy and they made some good plays,” Wise said. “Josh Pepin did a lot of things for them that I didn’t thing we were going to see. He made a lot of mid-range shots to keep them around. Walton was good too. He’s lanky and long enough to make plays and had a good first step to the basket.”
Smith led Clare with 17 points and nine rebounds, Packard had 15 points and 11 boards, Clickner had nine points and four assists, Punches had eight points, seven rebounds and seven steals, Vida added three points with Harton and Swan both scoring two.
On Wednesday, Jan. 22 Clare played at Gladwin in a Jack Pine Conference game, winning 63-50.
“It was just a good night for us,” Wise said. “We played consistent throughout. We were just playing well and the kids played great defense all night.”
Vida hit an early three to help Clare get rolling and Smith and Packard both added four points in the quarter to help the Pioneers lead 16-10 after the first.
Clickner caught fire from deep and hit four threes in the second and Sam Adkins added a three-ball as well, allowing Clare to pull ahead 35-21 at the half.
In the third, Packard hit a three and tallied four more points as the Pioneer lead reached 46-32 entering the fourth.
Punches added six more points in the final quarter and Smith connected on all four of his free-throws to tally 10 points in the frame.
Smith finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, Packard had 15 points and eight boards, Clickner had 14 points and seven assists, Punches had eight points and four assists, Adkins had five points, Vida had three and Swan added two.
Clare (7-3 overall, 4-2 JPC) hosted Harrison on Wednesday, hosts Beaverton tonight (Friday) and hosts Montabella Feb. 3.