COLUMBIA – Jacob Wade and Dallas Hester filed out of the locker room in a line of other Strafford Indians, their faces long, if not shaking their heads.
A chance to play for their program’s first state championship had come to an end Thursday in a Class 3 semifinal, largely thanks to a Division I recruit named Sean-Michael Clancey and his fade-away 3-pointers, fade-way jumpers from 14 feet out, finger rolls and dunks.
“He’d get to the rim and rip it off,” Wade said.
“I touched his nose, too,” Hester said of his own tight, perimeter defense, “and he still drained it.”
Clancey scored a career-high 39 points, including 33 before the end of the third quarter, and the overwhelmingly athletic Cardinal Ritter Lions smothered Strafford 73-54 at the Hearnes Center.
Strafford won the tipoff, and Hester scored the game’s first points on a 10-foot baseline jumper. It was the only time the Indians led.
Cardinal Ritter blitzed the rest of the half, scoring the next 10 points and racing to a commanding 44-27 advantage by halftime. The Lions shot 67 percent in the first half (16 of 24) alone, 26 of 42 for the game.
Clancey was clearly the best player on the floor as the 6-foot-3 senior cross-body dribbled and shot fade-away 3-pointers, or went for dunks (he had three) or swished fade-away jumpers. He also finished a fast break with a nifty finger roll.
In fact, his put-back dunk just before the final horn of the opening half gave him his 21st and 22nd points.
“I got hot and my teammates kept encouraging to keep going and kept getting me the ball,” said Clancey, who also said he is being recruited by Eastern Illinois, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Grambling State and Northwest Missouri State.
Clancey’s performance allowed the Lions (25-5) to play freely on both ends of the floor. At one point, they put Strafford in a 33-17 hole before halftime.
“We weren’t nervous. I don’t think that was the problem,” Strafford coach Mike Wilson said. “We got hit in the mouth and we didn’t hit back.”
Strafford (26-5) was hard-pressed to find much of an offensive rhythm. The Indians made only 17 of 48 shots for the game. They did pull within 10 early in the third quarter, outscoring the Lions 8-2 in the first two minutes. But they couldn’t get any closer.
Hester scored 19 points, and Kyle Foley and Grant Boswell combined for 22. However, Wade, who averages 14.1 points in the paint, scored 11 points but was only 1-of-4 shooting..
Wade, the Evangel University football recruit, got hounded by two and sometimes three defenders. The Indians also missed a few open jumpers and committed nine first-half turnovers, partly the result of being hurried in their half-court offense.
“They denied every pass. They sent five guys to the rim every time,” Wade said. “And that’s difficult as it is with any team, let alone smaller teams.”
Strafford will play for third place against College Prep at 4:15 p.m. Friday at Mizzou Arena.
“Only two (Class 3) teams can finish with a win and we hope to be one of them,” Wilson said. “You find out what you’re made of. It’s a gut-check game.”