In less than a year, Clever’s Lane Mendenhall has completely changed his perspective on coach Sean Price’s deliberate, disciplined, ball-control offense.
When Price was at Billings and coached against the Jays last season, Mendenhall wasn’t a fan. But now that Price is at Clever, Mendenhall is singing the virtues of playing patient.
With the Jays making as many as 15-20 passes a possession, Clever upset RUSH 41-39 in the first round of the Clever Invite on Monday.
“When we played Billings last year, it was annoying going against them when they were burning three minutes off the clock on offense and you're just sitting there waiting for something to happen,” Mendenhall said. “Tonight, I had kids (from RUSH) say to me it was annoying that we were taking so long on offense. It was kind of funny.”
The low score likely gives the impression both offenses struggled. But actually Clever’s execution was exceptional. The Jays led almost the entire way and held as much as a 12-point lead.
RUSH tried to rally late, but was never in position to tie or take the lead. A 3-pointer at the buzzer cutting Clever’s lead to two was as close as it got.
Repeatedly, the Jays reversed the ball ahead of RUSH’s attempts to trap, before eventually being rewarded with a high-percentage shot.
“We executed our game plan almost as perfectly as we can,” Price said. “If you would look at our game plan, (our offense) would match up completely like we wanted. We wanted to be really patient, take good shots and not turn the ball over.
“That's how I (coached) at Miller and kind of how I (coached) at Billings,” he added. “I’ve been a guy who hasn't had a team that is better than everyone else, so if we go out and try to play their style, we're putting our kids at a disadvantage. We knew we're not as talented as (RUSH).”
Last season, Price and Billings lost by 20 points to RUSH.
This was a 3-all ball game after one quarter and Clever was up 9-6 at the half. The Jays broke away in the third quarter to take a 29-17 lead two minutes into the fourth quarter.
“They’re big on using their length and athleticism to get you to turn the ball over,” Mendenhall said. “But there were a lot of gaps in their defense where, if you could keep the ball moving and waste some time on the clock, eventually, they were going to get antsy and you were going to get a wide-open shot.”
Point guard Brayden Verch was at the controls of Clever’s offense, handling the ball the majority of the time. He was nearly flawless, committing just one turnover.
“They tried to speed us up,’ Verch said. “Our plan was to slow the game down and make them play half-court defense. I tried to stay away from the traps and keep the ball in the middle the best I could. I think I did pretty good.”
Verch scored a dozen points and Mendenhall 10. Elijah Bussard came off the Clever bench to contribute six points, draw two charges and help limit RUSH center Joe Graves to six points .
Garrett Ruby topped RUSH with 15 points. He hit four 3-pointers while scoring 14 points over the final four minutes.
With Clever (1-1) having won just seven games over the past two seasons, the Jays were all too willing to adapt to what Price preached in the pre-season.
“We all bought in and trusted him that he was going to put us in the best position to win,” Verch said. “I think this fits us the best. It fits our talent. I don't think we’re good enough to run up and down the floor with teams.”
“In the early stages of our program, this is a big win for us,” Price said. “To get our first win against a really good team and compete at a high level, it says a lot about where our kids have come the last month and a half. The players listened. This should give us belief in what we're doing every day is working.”
Mendenhall called Monday's win the biggest of his career, so far.
“This is a momentum changer,” Mendenhall said. “After having a bad year last year, this is a good start to our season and gives us confidence. It's very fulfilling to see that our work has paid off.”