MURPHYSBORO — On senior night, a freshman led the way.
Point guard Calvon Clemons scored 19 points on just 10 shot attempts Friday when Murphysboro notched its 20th win, pulling away from SIRR Ohio rival Benton in the second half for a 58-42 win in Memorial Gym.
Clemons also added three assists and a pair of steals while earning almost as many free throws by himself (10) as the Rangers took as a team (12). For good measure, he committed just one turnover and helped the Red Devils (20-9, 5-5) make only three all game.
“You can’t say enough about that little freshman,” said Murphysboro coach Daryl Murphy, who collected the 501st win of his career. “We shoved him into this position when he was 14 years old and he is doing an awesome job.
“Any time you’ve got somebody that the other team can’t stay in front of, you’ve caused them a ton of trouble. And that’s what he’s doing for us.”
After a sloppy blowout loss at Carbondale just before Christmas, Murphy promoted Clemons from the JV team and placed him into the starting lineup almost immediately. As the season’s grinded towards its end and Clemons has gotten more comfortable, the Red Devils have added several dimensions offensively.
According to Benton coach Ron Winemiller, the biggest thing the 5-foot-7 Clemons has given Murphysboro is certainty.
“The M.O. before Christmas was that you could press Murphysboro and they were going to turn it over,” he said. “Clemons has done a really good job settling them down, and now he’s starting to score. He had 20 against West Frankfort and 19 tonight. He’s really playing at a high level for a freshman.”
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While the Red Devils have added a key piece, the Rangers were forced to subtract one recently. Six-three junior Carson Lewis, a versatile guard that Winemiller ran his offense through for the season’s first half, is done for the year with a broken wrist suffered during the Duster Thomas Tournament.
Lewis played through the injury for about a month until it simply took away too many facets of his game, even affecting his ability to catch the ball.
“When you miss an athlete like that, it hurts,” Winemiller said. “More so defensively tonight, because Murphysboro was a little more athletic than us. He’s been dealing with it for a while. He fought his tail off to play with it.”
Benton (19-10, 4-6) trailed only 26-23 at the half, but warning signs abounded. The Rangers needed to hit 69.2 percent of their field goal tries just to stay within a 3-pointer. They coughed up eight turnovers to the Red Devils’ one, allowing Murphysboro to hit only 43.5 percent yet lead because it squeezed off 10 more shots.
It was still a three-point game at 32-29 midway through the third quarter when the Red Devils rattled off 13 straight points, holding Benton without a point for more than six minutes. The Rangers tried only five field goals in the quarter and committed five turnovers.
Clemons was involved in a good chunk of it. His 3-pointer from the top of the key made it 37-29, and his slick feed to Jamarr McZeke led to a transition layup that boosted the lead to 10 for the first time. By the time Benton scored again on a Joey Craig free throw early in the fourth quarter, Murphysboro owned a 45-30 advantage.
“They weren’t missing a whole lot of shots in that first half,” Murphy said. “I knew we had to tighten our guard defense down. They were hitting shots, but we were giving them easy shots.”
Corbin Guthman, one of four seniors playing his last home game, added 14 points and three steals for the Red Devils. Brad Hammond paced the Rangers with 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field, while Craig scored 13 and grabbed seven rebounds.