Thompson pulls away to defeat James Clemens, reach first Elite Eight since 2013

Published 1:14 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

HANCEVILLE – With the Thompson Warriors facing a six-minute scoring drought early in the second quarter, they needed a big response trailing by nine to the James Clemens Jets in the Sweet 16.

That came from Colben Landrew, who had a nine-point second quarter to make it a one-possession game at halftime, and his teammates chipped in on offense and defense in the third quarter to take the lead and never look back.

The Warriors pulled away for the 63-43 win in the Northwest Regional Semifinals at Wallace State Community College on Wednesday, Feb. 14 to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in Class 7A, avenging their Sweet 16 loss to the Jets in 2022.

“At the beginning of the year, I said, ‘We can go up against any team, any style and we can adapt to it and we can enforce our will,’ and I thought we did that tonight,” Thompson coach DJ Black said.

It’s the first trip to the regional finals for Thompson since 2013, when it was still in Class 6A.

Jared Smith led the way for the Warriors early, scoring his team’s first five points of the game. However, for every Thompson basket in the first four minutes, James Clemens had an answer as it tied up the game three different times during that span.

From there, the Jets took over on both ends of the court and led for the rest of the half.

James Clemens went on a 9-1 run in the next two-and-a-half minutes to take control of the lead. While Masiah Robinson got a couple of points back for the Warriors from the free throw line in the final minute, the Jets defense held Thompson scoreless from the field in the final four minutes of the first.

That left James Clemens up 16-10 at the end of the opening period, a lead it would only build on in the opening minute of the second with a 3-pointer to go up nine.

Landrew and the Warriors made their move from there, as the sophomore standout scored nine of his team’s 10 points in the second quarter to enter double figures while the defense locked in.

The 10-2 run helped Thompson cut the deficit to just one with 3:24 left in the half. Even though the Jets got a couple of points back from the free throw line, the Warriors defense kept it a one-possession game at the break.

Thompson continued to claw its way back into the game to start the third thanks to a Jay Green 3-point play and a Daeshaun Morrissette 3-pointer in the first minute-and-a-half of the second half.

Green hit another basket shortly afterwards to give the Warriors the 28-26 lead, their first time in front since the score was 5-3, and they never trailed again.

The pressure from Thompson only built from there. Smith and Landrew each hit a 3-pointer to take the lead to eight and force a James Clemens timeout with 4:30 left in the third.

The Warriors kept a multi-possession lead for much of the third period, but the Jets went on a 7-2 run to cut the deficit to two with 16 seconds left.

Green restored the two-possession lead with a layup as time expired, and the Warriors led 44-40 to go into the fourth quarter with the momentum in their favor.

Thompson kept rolling from there and opened the fourth on a 13-0 run. Landrew and Robinson combined for the first eight points of the quarter, and they linked up on a transition layup by Landrew off a behind-the-back pass from Robinson.

Cam Pritchett then had a strong sequence as he took the lead to 14 on offense before earning a block on defense immediately after to preserve the advantage.

That was just one of many strong plays from the Warriors defense down the stretch as they held the Jets scoreless from the field for the final nine-and-a-half minutes of the game.

James Clemens’ only points of the fourth quarter came from three free throws in the final 2:25 with the damage already done.

Pritchett and Andy Olds capped off the scoring for Thompson to seal the 20-point win and advance to the program’s first Elite 8 in 11 years.

Landrew led the way with a game-high 19 points and also had six rebounds. Green had 11 points, five rebounds and three steals and Morrissette had nine points and five rebounds.

Smith nearly recorded a double-double with eight points and nine rebounds. Robinson scored seven points and Pritchett had six points and five rebounds in the win.

After the game, Smith said the key to the turnaround was locking in and doing what they do best instead of letting James Clemens dictate the tempo.

“It was really just locking in, knowing we’re supposed to be here knowing, we can put the ball in the hoop, just settling down really and understanding the concept of the game, getting in the pace of the game,” Smith said.

The Warriors now prepare for one of the biggest games in recent history with their Elite Eight contest on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at Wallace State.

Even though this is unfamiliar territory for this group of players and coaches, Black believes Thompson deserves to be among the final eight teams in the state and hopes that this run establishes the standard and style of their program.

“We’re going to do Thompson basketball,” Black said. “We’re going to play smart, we’re going to play together, we’re going to play tough and like these guys said, we belong here and we’re really establishing the brand of Thompson basketball, not just in the state, but hopefully nationally now.”