CLOVER — The Clover High School Blue Eagles extended one of North Carolina’s powerhouse teams to the limit before Hunter Huss pulled away down the stretch to prevail, 62-49, in Friday’s season-opener at the CHS gym.
The Blue Eagles held the advantage through the first half and into the third quarter, until the Huss boys began pecking away, expanding the lead to double digits.
Huss is ranked No. 5 in The Charlotte Observer’s Sweet 16 poll that includes the best teams in North and South Carolina.
Clover boys’ head coach Bailey Jackson said scoring droughts to start the second and third quarters enabled Huss to build the lead. “We had eight empty possessions to start the second quarter,” Jackson said after the game.
“Our kids gave great effort against a team that plays for state championships,” he said. “They are the quickest team I’ve seen in a while.”
While Huss came in as one of the top teams in the Carolinas, the Blue Eagles refused to buckle under such pressure, especially in the first half.
After Huss built a 10-7 first-quarter lead with pressure defense, Clover junior Bryce Allen went to work. Allen drove the lane and scored, drawing a foul in the process as Blue Eagle fans roared approval.
After converting the free throw, Allen hit from three-point range, staking the CHS boys to a 13-10 lead.
Mark Cavanaugh, Aaron Milner and Alex Thompson dotted the scoreboard in the final moments of the first quarter, pushing the Blue Eagles ahead to 19-11.
R.J. Moore broke a second-quarter scoring drought that put Clover ahead 21-16 in the quarter.
Later, with the quarter winding down and the Blue Eagles clinging to a 23-20 lead, Allen brought the crowd to life with another three-pointer, pushing the home team ahead, 26-20.
Though Huss scored the final basket of the quarter, the Blue Eagles led 26-22 at the half.
Clover kept things close in the third quarter. Huss regained the lead in the early moments of the third quarter at 28-26.
Trailing 35-30 well into the quarter, the Blue Eagles cut into the lead when 6-foot-8 pivot Austin Stone powered inside for a basket.
Moments later, Stone scored on an assist from Allen, slicing the lead to three at 37-34.
But Huss went on a run in the fourth quarter, building the lead to 50-35 at one point and holding on.
Allen paced the scoring for Clover with 16 points, while Stone finished with eight points in the paint.
Stone admits to being in his comfort zone when he touches the ball inside. “I feel confident when I can work my way inside for a shot,” he said after the game.
Stone’s opinion of what the Blue Eagles need to do be successful against a team the caliber of Hunter Huss: “Cut down on the number of turnovers.”
Despite the loss to Huss, Jackson said, he likes what he sees in the Blue Eagles team in the early season.
“Playing Huss was a good test to prepare us for region play,” he said. “We have a great group of kids who are working hard.”