On the night Kenny Clay became Davenport West’s career leader in assists, his last pass of the game led to the game-winning basket.
Clay’s inbound pass from under the West basket found Aaron Gilliland, who hit a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining to lift the Falcons to a 49-48 Mississippi Athletic Conference victory over visiting Clinton.
“He was feeling hot the whole entire night,” Clay said of Gilliland. “So I figured if I gave it to him, he was going to make the shot.”
Gilliland had a hand in his face, but enough room to sink his fourth 3-pointer of the night. It gave the Falcons (7-3, 5-3 MAC) their first lead since midway through the third quarter.
“When Kenny passed the ball in to me in the corner, at first I thought I was going to get trapped, but when he cut through, it left me open for a shot I knew I could make. So I just took it,” Gilliland said.
After Gilliland’s corner 3 dropped through the net, the final buzzer sounded and the West students rushed Dave Wessel Court. But Clinton had called timeout, and two seconds were put back on the clock.
Clinton’s Brennen Lemke lobbed a long pass to L.J. Henderson, but his off-balance shot from 20 feet missed everything and the Falcons escaped with the victory.
“I feel like we just kind of overlooked them,” Gilliland said of the 1-8 River Kings. “We’ve always got to come ready.”
The Falcons got off to a slow start, and Clinton led 12-6 early in the second quarter before Gilliland provided a lift off the West bench. He hit three 3-pointers and scored 14 points during a 19-3 Falcon run, and West led 25-17 at halftime.
“Each game we’ve had to make some adjustments. It seems like we’re waiting for one guy to pull through, and tonight it was Aaron Gilliland,” West head coach Mark Bigler said. “He really stepped up for us. He brought the energy. He’s a great shooter, and he had opportunities tonight to show that.”
The Falcons went 1-for-13 from the field in the third quarter, and Clinton took a 34-30 lead into the final period. West’s Brett Erwin scored and drew a foul on a feed from Clay to start the fourth quarter, and the assist made Clay the school’s leader in the category.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Clay said. “I got a lot of help from my big men, Trey (Sampson) and Brett. They helped a lot. I have incredible wings who can hit shots, too.”
Clinton led by seven points with just over two minutes remaining. Sampson scored an old-fashioned three-point play, and then the Falcons began sending the River Kings to the free-throw line. Clinton only made six of nine foul shots in the game’s final two minutes. When Lemke made just one of two free throws with 19.8 seconds left, it gave West one last chance with the basketball and a chance to tie.
Sampson missed a 3-pointer, but the rebound went out of bounds, last touched by the River Kings. Then Clay found Gilliland for the game-winner.
Gilliland, who started 13 games for the Falcons last season, finished with a career-high 17 points.
“Last year he started at the wing, and we’ve got a lot of depth there,” Bigler said of Gilliland. “He’s more of a four, so we’ve played him there. Against zones, he’s going to step out and shoot for us because he’s one of our better shooters. Tonight was one of his first opportunities because we haven’t seen a lot of zone. I’ve got to give him credit. He’s a team first guy. He could have been really frustrated giving up a starting role, but he hasn’t been. He’s kept himself ready, and tonight when we needed him, there he was.”
Erwin added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Falcons. Clay only scored two points, but finished with eight assists. No bigger than his last.
“Kenny just does a great job getting his teammates involved,” Bigler said. “He sees the floor exceptionally well. He’s a vastly underrated player in our area. I think he’s one of the better point guards around. He’s a pass-first guy. Without him, the way he handles the ball and runs our team, we wouldn’t be 7-3 right now. We appreciate his leadership.”