As the classic holiday song “Sleigh Ride” blared from the gym speakers at halftime, the Clear Fork Colts had no idea how tough the sledding was going to get Friday night.
How could they?
At that point, slick senior guard Keith Corbin had nearly outscored host Lexington himself, pumping in 20 points on a variety of jumpers to shoot Clear Fork out to a 29-24 lead. And it really didn’t seem that close.
It wouldn’t have been if not for a 3-pointer at the buzzer by senior forward Michael Boals, his only basket of the night.
That seemed to awaken the Minutemen, especially on defense, because they pitched a third quarter shutout — that’s 16-0 if you’re scoring at home — and it proved to be the difference in their 56-54 Ohio Cardinal Conference victory.
To say Lex’s game-changing defense was as miserly as that skinflint Scrooge would be an understatement.
Hanging a goosegg on Clear Fork in the third quarter looked even more impressive after the Colts answered with 25 points in the fourth and came within a 3-point shot of winning at the end.
“That shot (by Boals) at the (halftime) buzzer, putting us down five instead of eight, was huge for us,” senior guard Mason Willeke said. “We brought the team together and decided we had to be more physical with them in the second half. It was our defensive pressure that held them to zero.”
Frosty would have melted at Corbin’s first-half touch. He was 8-of-10 from the field and was actually hotter from 3-point range (2-of-3) than the foul line (2-of-5).
But the lefty was nowhere near as lethal in the second half. With Lex throwing Willeke, Matt Barkett and Andru Switzer at Corbin, he made only three of his nine shots and missed both of his 3-point attempts, finishing with 26 points.
The Minutemen were just as concerned about junior guard Ridge Winand, but he was only 3-of-16 from the floor en route to a hard-earned 13 points.
Barkett deflected a shot by Corbin early in the third quarter and things snowballed from there, with Switzer blocking a fadeaway jumper by Corbin from the left wing to further ignite the defensive effort.
“Things started coming together for us in the second half,” said Switzer, who played well at both ends, his 11 points part of a 27-point night for the backups. “We tried to force (Corbin) to go to the right and when he went left we got a good step on him.”
Trailing 40-29 entering the final period, the Colts wouldn’t go away. Thanks to four quick points from Griffin Robinette and consecutive 3-pointers by Winand and Jordan Ridenour, Clear Fork was back within three with 5:36 to play.
The Colts never regained the lead, but it was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way. Willeke scored six of his team-high 17 points down the stretch for Lex and it was Barkett, after Clear Fork rebounded a missed free throw with 3.6 seconds left, who sealed the win by intercepting a pass at halfcourt.
The pass was tipped by Switzer, directing the ball right to Barkett and taking some of the drama out of that Hail Mary.
“Corbin likes to go to his left, so we tried to take that away in the second half,” Barkett said. “He’s definitely streaky. Once he hits one, he’ll hit seven in a row. We just tried to get a hand in his face and the ball out of his hands.”
Corbin and Willeke traded places in the second half. Despite having seven rebounds in the first half, Willeke was quiet offensively, making only one basket. He was 5-of-6 the rest of the way and scored 13 points. He also finished with eight boards, three steals and two blocks. Barkett had seven points off the bench and starter Bryan Truax grabbed 12 rebounds as the Minutemen (2-1) made do inside without injured starter Logan Bastin.
“They started forcing Keith to his right hand, but I fault our effort,” Clear Fork coach Steve Bechtel said. “We weren’t scoring (in the third quarter), but we weren’t stopping them either.
“I was pleased with the way we battled back in the fourth quarter with the kind of effort we’re known for at Clear Fork.”
The win was poetic justice for Lex. The Minutemen suffered through a disastrous third quarter of their own in the season opener, getting outscored 17-2 by Mount Vernon in what turned into a two-point loss.
“We can go nine or 10 (players) deep, which allowed us to keep pressure on the ball, but we’re still looking for the right (player) combinations,” first-year coach Scott Hamilton said.
“We kind of called Mason out at halftime. He’s our senior with the most varsity experience. We let him know he had to step it up and take guys with him. He did a nice job of taking charge in the second half.”