It’s a comeback season that will be remembered for years to come – after losing the first five games of conference play, the Clinton College men’s basketball team persevered and became the first-ever Eastern Metro Athletic Conference champions over the weekend, and now they have a shot at a national title.
The Clinton College Bears upset top-seeded Johnson & Wales University 77 - 75 in an intense, physical game on Saturday that came down to the final seconds. The team showed just how focused and well-conditioned they were when both teams were forced to play with only five players with eight minutes left in the second half.
“It had to do with the confidence of the guys on the court,” said Head coach Anderson Bynum. “All those guys on the court had individual meetings with me at some point this season, where they said they wanted more playing time. So, I reminded them of those meetings and told them ‘now you have the opportunity to show me why you should be on the court more.’”
Freshman Darron Barnes, who was the EMAC tournament MVP and one of Clinton’s tallest players, believes the height and size of this year’s team paid off for them.
“We have a lot of size and length. We have a lot of guys in positions that are bigger than you would usually see in our conference and in our league. So, we used that to our advantage, as far as rebounding, playing defense and just athleticism as a whole.”
The team has another opportunity to display that same confidence and talent next week in Pennsylvania after clinching a bid to compete in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Basketball National Championship. The team learned they had been selected as the number No. 6 seed Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by fans and Clinton College family.
Sophomore Micah Smith hopes this bid to the national tournament will put the college on the map.
“I think it will attract a lot of people, bring better players to Clinton College.”
But for Coach Bynum – who became head coach after Larry Mullins stepped down – the success of the team is not a big surprise. This is the moment they have been working towards all season.
“Early on, we were able to identify the strengths and abilities of each player…we tried to put them in positions to be successful, which rolled over to winning.”
So, what does the team need to do to make noise in the USCAA tournament?
Smith simply states, “I think we got to keep doing what we’re doing. I think we’re playing great right now. I don’t think we need to change anything.”
Before heading to Pennsylvania to take on No. 3 seed Bryant & Stratton Buffalo in the USCAA tournament, the Clinton College Bears will play one last home game on Wednesday, February 27th against Denmark Tech. It is a double-header and senior night, with the women’s team playing at 5 pm and the men’s game following at 7 pm.