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Eight 3-pointers enough for Mendenhall, Jays to break away from Billings


Lane Mendenhall proved to be a zone-buster for Clever on Friday, as the senior swingman hit a handful of 3-pointers while scoring 20 points in the Jays’ 47-35 triumph over Billings.

But Mendenhall couldn’t fault the Wildcats for defending the Jays with 1-2-2 and 2-3 zones.

"We've kind of struggled against zones. We did good against RUSH and their 1-3-1 zone, but that was about it,” Mendenhall said. “(Billings coaches) watched us against Walnut Grove (in a 63-39 loss Thursday) and we struggled against their zone. So, they came out tonight thinking they would beat us with their zone. But we were knocking down shots.”

A trio of 3s by Mendenhall and a trey by Lucas Peebles highlighted Clever’s second-half fireworks. A 14-0 Jays run turned a 25-22 third quarter deficit into a 36-25 lead.

Clever outscored Billings 24-3 from the 3-point line on its way to halting its losing streak against the Wildcats at three games.   

“(Billings’) whole game plan was to pack it in and force us to make a lot of 3s to beat them,” Clever coach Sean Price said. “It worked well for a long time. But we got lucky and made a couple shots. We got some guys shooting with confidence.”

Price also felt Billings made the right call by playing in a zone, given the Jays’ inconsistent perimeter shooting through their first eight games.

“Up and down,” Price said of his team’s 3-point shooting. “We’ve had quarters we've shot it well and quarters we haven't made anything. Overall, we haven't been a great 3-point shooting team. We've got to get more consistent. It's probably my fault for not having them do enough shooting in practice.”

"Some games we’ve shot it well,” Mendenhall said. “Other games we couldn't buy a shot.”

Mendenhall has emerged as a viable 3-point threat. He fired in five 3s in a single quarter against Marionville.

“I'm not as much of a rebounder and post player as I used to be. I shoot the ball more,” Mendenhall said. “It's nice I have a coach now that has a lot more confidence in me than coaches I've had in the past. He wants me to shoot the ball.”

“He's been our best 3-point shooter and we're trying to get him to shoot it more,” Price said. “He’s kind of passive. We've encouraged him to get more shots up.”

Bilings stayed in a zone amidst Mendenhall’s shooting, but became vulnerable to dribble penetration. Clever point guard Brayden Verch drew repeated fouls on his way to making 9-of-10 free throws, all in the second half.

“The 3s expanded (Billings’ zone) to have to guard more room,” Price said. “That gave Brayden the opportunity to penetrate. The only way he was allowed to do that was because the defense had to extend out to guard our shooters.”

Clever kept a double digit lead down the stretch.

All this after Billings took a 19-18 edge into halftime and upped its advantage to 23-18. The Wildcats managed just 11 points over the final 12 minutes.

“I like the way we responded,” said Peebles, who had 11 points. “We came out and said, 'We're going to win, we're going to take it.’ We knew we needed to lock in, follow our principles and finish the game.”

“No matter the circumstance, we know we've got to stay tough and stick to the principles of what we're going to do,” Mendenhall said. “I think we shut them down. What we do on the defensive end of the floor translates to our offense.”

Billings (4-4) received nine points apiece from Chance Shaffer and Dylan Edwards and eight from Kameron Clark. 

For Price and the Wildcats, it was a reunion. He coached at Billings last season. 

“It was stressful. It's tough coaching against guys I spent a year with,” Price said. “It was fun watching their growth and the good job (coach Blayne Armstrong) is doing now with them. Those guys mean a lot to me still to this day and it was good to see them all. I think some of them were nervous and afraid to come talk to me. I went up and gave them hugs and let them know I care about them and love them.”