On the whole, Clay's Eagles were more balanced than St. Francis de Sales last night in a key City League matchup at Rogers.
But, balance aside, standout junior guard Darryl Roberts tipped the scales in the Knights' favor and it was just enough to allow St. Francis to escape with a 47-45 victory.
For all of Roberts' work during a 26-point effort against a Clay defense focused squarely on stopping him, the Eagles still had a chance to win or tie in the closing seconds.
After Roberts capped the game's scoring by hitting one of two free throws with 21 seconds remaining, Clay was able to advance up court, call a timeout and set up a final shot with 10 seconds to go.
But John Nelson missed an off-balance 3-point attempt from the left wing, and Nick Zenk's desperation put-back attempt from eight feet away also was off the mark as time ran out.
"We had a couple shots there at the end but Darryl Roberts is a great player," Clay coach Joe Guerrero said. "We did everything we could to stop him, and we even let other guys go and tried to double-team him and run guys at him. He still got 26 points. He was a one-man show.
"We knew coming in that he was their offense, and we worked on things to try to stop him. At times we did a good job, but he was able to make big plays the whole game."
The win was pivotal in the league playoff race as St. Francis (9-2, 6-1 CL) denied Clay (8-3, 4-3) a shot at tying the Knights in the standings and gaining a tie-breaker edge.
Clay, which trailed 46-40 after two Roberts free throws with 2:32 left, rallied behind junior guard Derek Spencer, who converted from inside with 2:17 to play and added two free throws 20 seconds later.
Zenk rebounded Brent Graham's 3-point miss and was fouled with 0:45 on the clock, but hit just one of two free throws to pull Clay within a point.
The Eagles did their best to slow the CL's leading scorer, with Nelson hawking Roberts and getting help in the back and front court. But Roberts got rolling after a three-point first quarter.
"Darryl got a little frustrated early," Knights coach Nick Lowe said. "He's our man now, but he's never been in this role before this season. He's not used to people centering on him.
"They played great defense on him, but thanks to his demeanor - he never gets too high or too low - he stays on an even keel. That's what we need him to do. He's got some good teammates around him setting screens and helping him get open, so it's a total team effort."
Roberts' array of acrobatic, double-pumping attacks toward the basket led to 14 foul shots, of which he converted 10. In the process he also managed to foul out Clay's top player, senior forward Brett McDougle, who exited with 2:32 to play.
"Clay played pretty good defense on me," Roberts said. "They stayed with me the whole night. I just had to stay strong and come off my screens. My teammates were looking for me and I knocked down a few shots."
Clay trailed 28-24 midway through the third quarter before using an 8-1 run to grab a 32-29 lead on a Wes Taylor jumper from the left corner. Roberts knotted things with a trey with five seconds left in the third.
Only three other players scored for the Knights, with Nick Meinert getting 12 points, Chris Ceparski seven, and Chris Kantner a lone field goal. Meinert delivered a big 3-pointer to put St. Francis up 44-39 with 3:45 remaining.
St. Francis was 15-of-32 from the field, 13-of-19 from the line and committed 20 turnoversw while forcing 19.
Clay got 10 points apiece from Spencer and Taylor, nine from McDougle and eight from Zenk. The Eagles were 13-of-33 from the field, 17-of-23 from the line, and outrebounded the Knights 23-20.
"Our kids made big plays when they had to," Lowe said. "The defensive stand there at the end was very disciplined. Nelson headfaked and we didn't buy it."
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