The Russell County Lakers seemed poised to take down the district favorite Clinton County Bulldogs in the first half of Friday’s matchup, but the Lakers struggled down the stretch and the Bulldogs capitalized, as the Lakers fell to 1-1 on the season with a 48-38 loss to their district rival.
The Lakers held a 25-18 lead at halftime and led by as many as 10 in the first half, but only scored four points in the third quarter and were outscored 23-9 in the fourth as the Lakers struggled to find any offensive rhythm and were plagued with turnovers late.
“Clinton County is a really good team,” Lakers coach Billy Carson said following the game. “They’re picked to win this district for a reason. They’re a top five team in the region and it’s justifiable. We knew they would keep coming at us and that was something we tried to remind our guys of, that they would keep coming. We just kind of had some mental lapses there with their pressure. That’s been our achilles heel, so we just gotta learn how to step up and fix that.”
The Lakers finished with 18 turnovers on the night, 13 of which came in the second half.
“We did a really good job in the first half only turning the ball over five times,” Carson said. “They didn’t really change defenses. I don’t know, we might have just got tired. I’m not trying to make excuses. I just told them after the game, our guards gotta step up and handle pressure. We gotta have guys who want the ball when the game is on the line. We’re going to continue to work, but I can’t fault those kids. The effort was there, we just have to close it out.”
It was a physical game from the start, with a total of 36 fouls called during the game. Carson said overall, he thought his team handled the physical nature of the game well.
“I think they handled it well,” Carson said. “A lot better than years past when we’ve come here. One thing I learned today, when we have guys in foul trouble, other guys can step up. They’re more than capable. I can’t fault the kids’ effort. They played really hard, but we just didn’t finish.”
Junior Jay Milburn was one of the players who got into foul trouble early on. Milburn, who led the Lakers in scoring on Tuesday, only played 12 minutes on Friday. Milburn finished with eight points, four rebounds, and a pair of assists on the night.
The Lakers were led in scoring by Clay Anderson, who finished with 11 points including three three-pointers. Scott Hamm added nine points along with four rebounds.
Blake Bolin and Owen Loy added three points each, while Collin Burton and Devonte Grayson added two points each.
Grayson led the team in rebounding with six rebounds, and CJ Vonfumetti led the team in steals with four.
Undoubtedly a tough loss for the Lakers, Carson said he is trying to keep the team looking forward to the rest of the season.
“It’s a tough loss but those kids played really hard,” Carson said. “Things just didn’t fall our way. We gotta learn how to finish games and when the game is on the line, we have to make winning plays. You can’t run from adversity.”