By Steve Williams
Fulton cooled off one of the hottest basketball teams in the state last week.
Clinton rolled into Jody Wright Arena on a 16-game win streak Wednesday night and had not lost a game since its Hall of Fame season opener at McMinn County on Nov. 16.
The Falcons only trailed once in the game en route to a 68-52 win over the Dragons.
“I just feel like defensively we were able to guard them a little bit,” said Coach Jody Wright, who saw his team improve to 13-3.
“What a great team Clinton has. They have so many offensive weapons and present so many problems for you defensively. I felt like we had to slow them down a little bit and we did a pretty decent job in the first half.”
Clinton Coach Chris Lockard pointed out his team was not at full strength.
“We just got (senior power forward) Tyler Kidd back from a bulging disc,” said Lockard. “I probably played him too much.”
The Dragons were also without 6-5 senior forward Jeremiah Blauvelt, who had been averaging a double-double.
“Both of those guys are our inside presence and we weren’t real fluid. We were a little bit out of synch. Now, you’ve got to credit Fulton’s defense a little bit for that.”
In addition to their defensive play, Fulton also got some good shooting. Senior guard Desmir Hatchett scored a game-high 19 points, connecting on 9 of 12 field goal attempts.
Marcellus Jackson was 5 for 11 from the field and tallied 13 points. The junior also made several hustle plays for the Falcons. Sophomore guard Denaj Kimber chipped in 11 points.
Hatchett also grabbed seven rebounds and had two steals and two assists. Jackson’s stat sheet included four rebounds, three steals and three assists.
Jackson Garner, one of the top marksmen in the area, led Clinton with 16 points before fouling out with 4:20 remaining and the Dragons trailing by eight points (55-46). Lane Harrison, a 6-7 senior forward, contributed 14 points.
Both teams made six 3-point shots, but the Falcons were more accurate at the free throw line, where they made 8 of 10 attempts compared to the Dragons’ 8 of 18. Clinton committed six turnovers in the opening period and 13 in the game, while Fulton turned the ball over nine times.
After a 12-all first period, the Dragons took their only lead when Rishon Bright hit a short jumper to begin the second period.
A 10-1 flurry by Fulton to end the quarter, capped by Dexter Lewis’ 3-pointer with one second on the clock, put the Falcons up 34-23 at halftime.
A steal and layup by Hatchett gave Fulton its biggest lead in the game (47-30) late in the third quarter.
Clinton chipped away and pulled within eight (57-49) when Hunter Rupert fired in a 3-pointer from the top of the circle with 3:43 to go. The Dragons, however, couldn’t get any closer.
Fulton sophomore Tyler Lee intercepted a pass and slam dunked the ball to put an exclamation point on the victory in the final minute.
“We knew it would be a good test for both teams,” said Coach Wright. “That’s why Chris and I scheduled the game.
“These are the kind of games that will help you down the road.”