A jittery group of Evarts Wildcats were no match Monday for a senior-dominated Clay squad, which scored the game's first 20 points and 33 of the first 34 in coasting to a 71-38 victory.
"We're young and inexperienced at the guard position right now," Evarts coach Jerry Ford said. "We're trying to find somebody who is going to step up and not be scared and not be nervous.
"When you get in a hole like that, there's no getting out of it."
The victory was an impressive debut for coach Glenn Gray, a 1976 Clay graduate who assisted Mike Jones the past two years after a long run as one of the 13th Region's top officials.
"We were real efficient the first quarter," Gray said. "We ran our offense like we're supposed to, we got out on the break and hit the boards. We executed, and we got some easy buckets.
"Then we got a little complacent. I think it set in that we were ahead, and we started trying to go too much one-on-one, and our man defense is terrible. We gave no weak-side help at all."
Clay set the tone with pressure defense and attacking offense. Senior forward Desmond Swafford, who finished with 12 points, had the first three baskets on two layups and a putback.
Senior forward William Jones, who led the Tigers with 14 points, hit a 3-pointer. After a basket by Dylan Sizemore, Jones picked off a pass and went in for a dunk, pushing the lead to 13-0 and prompting a timeout by Ford.
Baskets inside by Swafford and Jones followed by a 3-pointer from point guard Anthony Hibbard stretched the lead to 20-0.
"We had real good intensity," Gray said. "We got a couple of easy baskets of our defense. That always helps your offense."
Evarts finally broke the ice when senior forward Jamie Combs hit one of two at the line with 2:57 left in the quarter.
Baskets by Zach Lewis and Jones gave the Tigers a 24-1 lead after one quarter as Evarts finished the period with a zero-for-12 shooting performance from the field. Clay hit 11 of 18 shots, most coming within 5 feet of the basket.
"We didn't shift on the zone," Ford said. "We were so worried about trying to guard their post men that nobody shifted out, and they just drove all night long. Then we would worry about getting out on the corner, and they would feed it right into the post."
The onslaught continued into the second quarter despite heavy substitutions by Gray. Two baskets by Sizemore followed by Hibbard's second trey made the score 33-1 with 6:20 left in the half.
A 10-foot jumper by Jesse Farley with 6:02 to play in the quarter was the first basket for the Wildcats, who hit only four of 25 shots (16 percent) in the half and trailed 44-9 at halftime.
Clay continued to cause Evarts problems with its press in the third quarter, leading to eight turnovers and numerous easy baskets for the Tigers, who built their lead to 65-26 at the end of the period. Clay hit nine of 14 shots in the quarter, including two baskets each by Zach Lewis, William Jones and Richard Jones.
Combs, who led Evarts with 13 points, came alive in the second half as the Wildcats outscored Clay 29-27, including 12-6 in the fourth quarter. Combs hit three of four shots in the final period after being held to only one points in the first half.
"The one positive was we didn't bury our heads and quit," Ford said. "If we had played the first half, and I know they subbed some, with that intensity it would have been a lot more competitive. But I don't want to take nothing from Clay County. They played real physical and wanted it more than we did."
Gray wasn't happy with the Tigers' defensive effort in the second half. Clay's 17 turnovers were also disturbing because most of them were unforced.
"We've got to maintain more concentration," Gray said. "This ballclub has got to rely on its defense if it's going to be successful. After the first 12 minutes, we tried to force it and tried to go one-on-one. They've got to learn to bring it for 32 minutes, no matter who the opponent is. That's the only way they're going to be able to compete in this region for a regional title."
Evarts (0-1) returns to action Thursday at Pound, Va. Clay (1-0) plays Carroll County on Saturday at 3:30 in the "Doc" Gray Classic at Harlan.
Raleigh Campbell scored 13 points and Freddie Smith added eight as Clay pulled away in the second half for a 52-27 win in the junior varsity game.
Cody Farley scored 14 and Jesse Farley added 11 to lead Evarts. Jarrod Fields tossed in two.
Trevor Smith 0-0 0-0 0, James Ledford 2-16 1-4 5, Cody Farley 2-4 0-2 4, Jamie Combs 5-9 2-6 13, Alex Bush 2-5 0-0 4, Jarrod Fields 2-6 1-2 6, Jesse Farley 2-6 0-0 4, Kyle Clark 0-0 0-0 0, Travis Helton 1-3 0-0 2. Totals: 16-49 4-14 38.
CLAY COUNTY (1-0)
Anthony Hibbard 4-5 0-0 10, Justin Hobbs 2-7 0-2 4, William Jones 6-10 1-2 14, Desmond Swafford 6-9 0-0 12, Dylan Sizemore 3-6 2-2 8, Raleigh Campbell 2-3 1-1 5, Zach Lewis 3-6 0-1 6, Darren Mathis 1-1 0-0 2, Richard Jones 4-6 0-0 8, Matt Dobbs 0-2 0-0 0, Jeremy Sizemore 0-3 0-0 0, Ryan Smith 1-1 0-0 2, Crosby Harris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 32-59 4-8 71.
Evarts 1 8 17 12 38
Clay County 24 20 21 6 71
3-point goals: Evarts 2-13 (Combs 1-2, Fields 1-3, C. Farley 0-1, J. Farley 0-2, Helton 0-2, Ledford 0-3), Clay County 3-12 (Hibbard 2-3, W. Jones 1-2, R. Jones 0-1, J. Sizemore 0-1, Lewis 0-2, Hobbs 0-3). Rebounds: Evarts 21 (Combs 8), Clay County 34 (D. Sizemore 7). Turnovers: Evarts 23, Clay County 17. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: Clay County (bench).