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Clinton rallies, defeats Jefferson, 65-64

Feb. 28—PLATTSBURGH — It couldn't have been scripted any better.

Trailing by two with seconds remaining, Clinton moved the ball around the perimeter before it found the hands of Victor Dueno.

With time expiring, Dueno let loose a three as the buzzer sounded. In the moments that felt like dragging on, the ball found the hoop and nothing could be heard but the ball hitting the net, and Clinton snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

And then celebrating happened. The Cougars had rallied from 12 points down at the half to defeat Jefferson CC, 65-64.

"We put some of our best shooters in, took some of our better drivers out," Clinton head coach Neil Epstein said. "They moved with the ball well and have just hit big shot after big shot for us all season long.

"The game winner is sending us to Herkimer for the first time Clinton has reached that round of the tournament since 2013-14."

With the win, Clinton moves on to the Final Eight where they will face Genesee CC, Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Herkimer College. Clinton and Genesee have met previously with the thrilling contest reaching overtime. The Cougars fell in that January 26 contest, 99-96.

It was a night for firsts for the Cougars. It's the first time since 2019 that Clinton reached that round of the playoffs.

It was the first time since 2008 when the school last hosted a home playoff game. It was also the first time since 2013 that Clinton won more than 10 games.

It took a defensive stand to pull the Cougars close, coming out of the break trailing 37-25. Epstein said he challenged his guys to go back to what they were known for: defense.

"All year we've been one of the best defensive teams in the country," he said. "And we were giving up the lead to easy buckets.

"We just said we're gonna sit down and guard and lock up. and we did that. I mean, we gave up 30 plus points in the first half. In the second it was less. I couldn't be more proud of my guys."

In fact in the second half, Clinton outscored Jefferson 40-27.

It's worth noting that Epstien and members of the team had tears in their eyes. Tears of joy.

It means so much to us and in this area and just in this community," he said. "Last year, we went 9-17 and I got hired crazy late. We flipped the whole record 16-10 this year.

"Now, these guys have fought all year round. We've been one of the best teams in the country. We've been against some of the best teams in the country. To win this for this school. With everything going on right now. It's just unbelievable."

With the win, Clinton improves to 17-10 and will look for payback against Genesee, Friday.