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BOYS BASKETBALL: Jones' 3-point play sparks Claremore to rout of Sapulpa

Feb. 23—TULSA — Shooters need to have a short memory to maintain confidence, and Will Jones proved he is one of the best at displaying that mindset.

Early on, the senior guard had a shot blocked and later went into halftime with only 4 points. In the second half, he nearly air-balled a free throw. However, he didn't become Claremore's leading scorer on the season by folding under pressure when things got hard or didn't go his way.

Jones — just moments after the errant shot from the line — drove into the well-guarded paint and elevated in front of a much-larger defender, taking the bump while simultaneously releasing a shot and falling backward. Now lying on his back, he clenched his fists and triumphantly shouted as the ball rolled off the left rim and through the net.

Jones then completed the 3-point play, giving the Zebras a 10-point lead near the midway mark of the third quarter. The game was over at that moment, but Sapulpa just didn't know it yet.

The team fed off the palpable energy from Jones' acrobatic shot, with Adam Isenbart, Braxton Etheridge and Tytus Eubanks following with consecutive 3-pointers to create an insurmountable lead as Claremore galloped to a 70-50 victory over the Chieftains in the Class 5A East Regional 1 semifinals Thursday night at Booker T. Washington's Nathan E. Harris Field House.

The Zebras advanced to play for the regional title Friday against the host Hornets, who have already defeated Claremore twice this season — 74-38 and 58-41.

"You could definitely feel the momentum shift," said Jones, who finished with 12 points and 1 rebound. "Our goal was to just not let up, even though we were going on a run. Just not let up and keep the pressure on, and that's how we came away with the dub."

And boy, did they not relent.

Jones' spark helped the Zebras turn a 37-34 halftime lead into a 56-42 cushion by the end of the third period, and their comfort zone extended in the fourth as they opened the frame with a 7-0 run thanks to a Teegan Mann 3-pointer and baskets from Gunner Holm and Jones.

Even after Sapulpa's Kylen Edwards hit a 3 of his own, Claremore answered with a 5-0 run to garner its largest lead of the game at 68-45 before the Chieftains scored 5 of the final 7 points.

Edwards led the Chieftains with 18 points and 5 rebounds, and Romen Abbage joined him in double figures with 10 points and 2 boards while Laneer Everett grabbed a team-high 6 rebounds to go alongside 2 points.

Isaac Ragsdale and Roman Poindexter added 9 and 8 points, respectively, with the latter notching a 4-point play that cut Sapulpa's deficit to 25-20 in the second quarter.

Ten Zebras scored in all, with six of them managing at least 6 points — Rex Clark (17), Jones, Isenbart (7), Holm (6), Mann (6) and Etheridge (6).

"We knew it'd be a tough game, but we like our depth," Zebras coach Tommy Nolan said. "We played a lot of guys — I think we rolled 11 early — and it was really good because I told them if they could stay the course, it'd be tough to play with us for 32 minutes. We kind of felt like if we just kept our foot on the gas pedal, they would wear down and it would start to open up the floor for us."

Claremore trailed only for a portion of the first quarter, and Clark was responsible for that early and sustained success.

The 6-foot-0 senior went off in the opening period, scoring all but 1 point of a 9-2 run — including two 3-pointers — in which the Zebras turned a 6-2 deficit into an 11-8 lead, after which they never trailed.

He continued that standout performance with Claremore's first 4 points of the second before later adding a 3-point play that pushed the advantage to 28-20.

Sapulpa would rally to force two ties at 32- and 34-all, but a late 3-pointer from Mann put the Zebras ahead 37-34 at halftime. Clark scored his final points with the first basket of the second half, finishing with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds.

"We knew he could do it all year long," Nolan said. "He's finally gotten to a point where he's healthy, and he's really in the flow of the offense and what we're trying to do. He's done a great job in practice, so we try to do a lot of things through him, and he's done a great job taking that role on."