KNOCKOUT PUNCH: Clarion Comes Out Swinging, But Imani Christian Academy Delivers Haymakers in Handing Bobcats a State Playoff Loss

Mike Kilroy

Mike Kilroy

Published March 13, 2024 2:11 am
KNOCKOUT PUNCH: Clarion Comes Out Swinging, But Imani Christian Academy Delivers Haymakers in Handing Bobcats a State Playoff Loss

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KITTANNING, Pa. (EYT/D9) — After three minutes, Clarion was up 7-0 on District 7 Class A champion Imani Christian Academy.

The Saints had taken a jab to the nose. But they were about to unleash a series of haymakers.

Seven minutes later, Imani was riding a 25-0 run and the battered Bobcats couldn’t recover, losing 79-45 in the second round of the PIAA Class A playoffs at Armstrong High School on Tuesday night.

(Pictured above, Clarion coach Tom Lewis talks with his players during a timeout)

“Let’s face it, they’re quicker and more talents,” said Clarion coach Tom Lewis. “We have athletes. They have basketball players. There’s a difference. They’re just better than us.”

Imani coach Khayree Wilson wasn’t concerned with his team’s slow start over the first three minutes of the game. It’s been the Saints M.O. this season — sometimes by plan.

Wilson didn’t unleash his devastating press, which forced a slew of Clarion turnovers and turned them into an avalanche of points, until after the Bobcat run to start the game.

Clarion Area High School sports coverage on Explore and D9Sports.com is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.

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“Usually I’d like for us to get settled into the game before I do it because I know it expends a lot of energy,” Wilson said. “We’ve been starting slow these last couple of games, but I think it’s just been getting a feel for the court, figuring things out.

“It’s almost like a boxing match,” he added. “You just throw a few jabs to kind of see what’s going on and then you go to that first corner break. That’s when you’re, ‘Alright. This is the game plan.’”

Clarion thought it was ready for that Imani game plan.

Lewis had seen film on the Saints and knew they pressed. But seeing it on video and seeing it live are two different things.

Imani also shot well from the perimeter — something the Saints hadn’t done a whole lot of recently.

“We worked on it last night,” Lewis said. “We tried to tighten up inside the paint and give them just one shot — which didn’t happen — and let them shoot the 3. I watched film and they averaged just five or six 3s a game. When they played Union, they go 6 — that’s just 18 points.”

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(Clarion players huddle before taking on Imani Christian Academy)

Imani hit four 3-pointers alone in the first quarter in leading 20-7 and then two more in the second. The Saints finished with 11 in the game.

Nate Brazil finished with 19 points and RJ Sledge 12 to lead Imani.

“We knew (Sledge) was very good,” Lewis said. “We knew (Brazil) was a good shooter. We got hammered. I mean, they outplayed us.”

Still, Clarion trimmed the lead again down to 28-17 before Imani went on another prodigious run, scoring the next 19 points to trigger the mercy rule early in the third quarter.

Devon Lauer and Bryce Brinkley each scored nine points to lead Clarion. Tanner Miller added eight off the bench.

Imani, which will take a giant leap to Class 6A next season, used 15 players and 11 of them scored at least two points.

“Our team is really, really deep,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of good players from the senior class all the way down to the freshman class. I’m really liking the way we’re sharing the ball. We had over 20 assists tonight. We shot over 50% from the field. I like the looks that we’re getting. We can literally play our entire roster.”

While Imani is moving on, it’s the end of the road for nine Clarion seniors, as well as Lewis, who is retiring.

“I know it’s time,” Lewis said. “I’m happy with what I’ve done over the years. I’m happy with what we did this year. We could have won a few more games if we just shot better from the line like we have the last part of the season, but I have no complaints. I’m ready to move on.”

Clarion Area High School sports coverage on Explore and D9Sports.com is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.
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