Alone on top |

Alone on top

A year ago, Brad Klopp’s McClatchy Lions closed out Metro Conference play with a 2-10 record and a last-place finish in league standings.

This year the Lions have shown they’re game, heading into Thursday’s conference clash at Nevada Union with a 5-3 Metro mark, good enough for a second-place tie with Yuba City.

But just when McClatchy thought it had arrived, Metro-leading Nevada Union – the league’s defending co-champion with Yuba City – nudged the Lions aside in the race for the title with a 60-53 win at Ali Gymnasium.

NU (15-8 overall, 6-2 Metro) now stands all alone atop the Metro – and the Miners’ lead grew to a full two games in the loss column, as Yuba City (10-10, 4-4) fell 56-46 to host Woodland (10-12, 4-4) Thursday.

“This was a big game,” said Klopp, McClatchy’s head coach, after his post-game talk with his team. “I think (the loss) was due to the immaturity of my ballclub. We hadn’t been here before.

“In the midst of trying to keep up with the (league) leaders, I’ve been trying to teach them how to finish games as (league) leaders should do.”

It wasn’t the finish that doomed the Lions this time.

It was the start.

Nevada Union held McClatchy to a 7-for-27 shooting performance in the first half, as the Miners managed to build a 31-20 lead at the break. The Lions never quite got their sights straight in second half, either, finishing the game with a 21-for-65 night from the floor.

McClatchy’s leading scorer, Matt Curry, managed 14 points, but that total came on a 4-for-17 shooting night – including 2 of 10 behind the 3-point arc.

“I thought we defended really well,” said NU head coach Jeff Dellis. “The problem wasn’t on the defensive end in the first half. The problem was that I burnt two timeouts early and when the pace got away from us, I wasn’t willing to take that third timeout.”

The pace didn’t prove to be a factor until the third quarter, when the Lions surprisingly came clawing back into the ballgame.

After Nevada Union sophomore Tyler Smith scored inside with two minutes, 54 seconds to go in the third quarter, the Miners led 42-26. McClatchy, though, wasn’t about to call it a night. The Lions went on a 10-0 tear that spanned into the early fourth quarter, trimming the Miner margin to 42-36 with 6:38 to go after Joseph Webb put back his own miss.

But then Webb was whistled for a technical foul.

“(The official) said he was applauding,” Klopp said. “It was a great play. The kid scored on his third effort. I would have clapped too.

“That just changed the whole complexion of the game.”

The Miners did capitalize on the call, as Smith sank two free throws and Jarad Van Matre followed up with a score inside for a 46-36 lead with 6:20 still on the clock.

The Lions, though, still weren’t finished.

McClatchy cut the lead back to five, at 54-49, when Ben Duncan scored on an inbounds play with 1:06 remaining.

Once again, though, the Miners moved McClatchy aside, as Brennan McFadden, Archie Pearson and Van Matre sank six straight free throws to seal the win in the final minute.

“Brad Klopp does a nice job with those guys,” Dellis said. “They’re tenacious. They work hard and they’ve got some nice athletes.

“But when the lead evaporated each time, you could trace it directly to things we did, letting the tempo get away from us, not blocking out – I thought we did a poor job on the defensive boards. That’s just not who we are. We’ve got to limit teams to one shot.”

The Miners didn’t need many shots on the opposite end of the floor, hitting 20 of 36 from the field. NU had four players in double digits, led by Smith’s 15 points. Van Matre had 14, while McFadden and Zane Edwards each scored 10. Pearson totaled nine points on a perfect 2 for 2 field goals and 5 of 5 from the free throw line.

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