McClain's Mat Barton drives to the hoop while being defended by Lynchburg-Clay's Eric McLaughlin, Tuesday at McClain High School. Barton and McLaughlin each led their teams with 26 points. Also pictured is McClain's Jacob Starkey (back), who scored 21 points. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
McClain's Mat Barton drives to the hoop while being defended by Lynchburg-Clay's Eric McLaughlin, Tuesday at McClain High School. Barton and McLaughlin each led their teams with 26 points. Also pictured is McClain's Jacob Starkey (back), who scored 21 points. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
GREENFIELD — The McClain Tigers held the lead over visiting Lynchburg-Clay at the conclusion of every quarter, but the exclamation point in the showdown of Highland County on Tuesday night at McClain Gym was a one-handed slam by Jacob Starkey in the final minutes that left no doubt the Tigers were going to be the victors.

The dunk by Starkey with 4:56 left in the quarter put the Tigers ahead by their largest total of the night at 25 points. The play of Starkey and the 26-point team-leading effort of Mat Barton were more than enough to push the Tigers to a 67-47 non-league win over the Mustangs.

Not only did Barton finish with 26 points, but the Tigers had 21 points from Starkey, as the two seniors not only combined for 47 points, but they kept the Mustangs off their game with aggressive defense by forcing steals and scoring points in the paint.

In his 26-point effort, Barton totaled four 3-pointers, four two-point baskets and was 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. Starkey totaled 10 two-point baskets and one free throw.

“It is amazing how you talk defensively and it carries over,” MHS head coach Jesse Mitchell said. “I credit coach (Brady) Streitenberger for that as he took the reins over on defense. We played well defensively in our last game at Massie but couldn’t score.

“This week I talked to Mat, and I felt he deserved some votes for all-league. I told him to use that for motivation, and Mat knew what I was talking about and he did. He is doing a good job of being a vocal leader, and that goes a long ways. He’s been working well with and helping Dalton. And Jacob Starkey … I hope he’s getting that little mean streak in him. He’s looking to take it to the glass, and he did. This was a good team win for us.”

On the side of Lynchburg-Clay (15-6), they were not playing at a full 100-percent as leading scorer Joe Giordano was limited in playing time, but for the Mustangs, they had issues with the McClain defense for most of the game as the Tigers forced the Mustangs to play from outside the three-point line, plus MHS battled tough on the boards, not allowing many second chance opportunities.

For the game, LC totaled just two two-point baskets and 11 3-pointers. They were 8-of-11 from the free-throw line. MHS made five 3-pointers but scored 42 of their 60 points off two-point field goals. MHS was also 10-of-14 from the free-throw line.

“We didn’t guard well, and I thought at times we didn’t execute what we wanted to defensively,” LC head coach Matt Carson said. “I thought we played hard in spurts, but we need to make better decisions at times.

“Credit McClain, they got on a roll and started to believe. They are an athletic ball team, and you catch them on a right night when they are playing well, and we caught them on a right night. Again, credit them, they came out and defended their home court and this is something we are going to have to learn from. We are going to have to learn to do a better job of handling adversity. We’ll come back from it and work hard in practice.”

McClain (7-14) led by a 12-11 score after the opening eight minutes ticked off the clock, but for most of the quarter LC had the leading score. McClain tied the score at 9-9 following a 3-pointer by Barton with 2:06 left in the opening quarter. LC’s Eric McLaughlin put LC back in front with a layup. McLaughlin totaled 26 points for the Mustangs, making six 3-pointers in the loss.

The lead went on favor of MHS in the final 25 seconds of the first quarter with Starkey sinking a free throw and Dalton Mischal stealing the ball and making a layup with two seconds left in the quarter for a 12-11 lead.

The two-point basket by Mischal, who totaled 13 points, put MHS in the lead, and that was a lead they didn’t lose for the remaining three quarters. In fact, the second frame didn’t fare well for the Mustangs with them giving up 10 straight points in a span of 3:12, as McClain’s one-point lead turned into a 22-11 lead with 4:48 left in the first half.

The 10 straight points to start the second for the Tigers began with a fast break layup by Mischal, as the assist and steal went to Barton less than a minute into the quarter. That play forced the Mustangs to call a timeout at the 7:07 mark. Following the break in play, Barton connected from beyond the arc at the 6:35 mark, and another steal and layup by Mischal put the Tigers out front by eight points at 19-11, forcing LC to use a second timeout in a span of less than a minute.

Mischal later sank a 3-pointer with 4:48 left on the clock for the aforementioned 11-point lead. Brian Lampkin broke up what was a 13-0 run dating back to the end of the first frame with a 3-pointer, cutting the MHS lead to eight points. As the game went on, Barton had a steal and layup, and with 2:54 remaining in the second quarter, Barton drilled a 3-pointer to push the Tigers ahead by 12 points at 27-15. The lead later increased to 14 points when Mischal connected with a put-back basket.

The Mustangs answered with a 3-pointer by Austin Hilt and a jumper from AJ Stroop, and following a technical foul on the Tigers to hitting the backboard, Lampkin ended the first half scoring with two converted free throws for a LC deficit of 29-22 at halftime.

The Tigers really broke away from the Mustangs in the third frame, outscoring their Highland County counterpart, 17-7 in the eight-minute quarter. This time, the Tigers in the first four minutes of the frame went on a 10-2 run that included points from Barton, Owen O’Connor, Starkey and Mischal, resulting in two steals for layups, another two points in the paint and a jumper for a 39-24 McClain advantage with 3:53 left in the third.

McLaughlin broke up the scoring with two points around the three-minute mark, but that didn’t faze the Tigers with the home team wrapping up the third on a 6-2 scoring differential in the final 2:51 of the third. During that span, Barton sank two free throws, Starkey scored points in the paint and Barton connected with a jumper at the buzzer for a 46-29 lead. Also, in that span of scoring, O’Connor took a charge for the Tigers with 1:04 left in the quarter.

In the fourth, MHS outscored the Mustangs, 21-18 for the 20-point win.

McClan gradually built up their lead to the 20-point mark in the fourth and hit that plateau for the first time in the quarter off a steal and layup by Barton on a fast break with 5:53 left in the game. Later, the lead went to 23 points with Barton making two free throws, then came the one-handed slam by Starkey at the 4:56 mark for a 25-point lead.

McLaughlin put LC on his shoulders by scoring eight straight LC points, but it was too late for the Mustangs with McClain with seven more points on their side of the scoreboard as Dakotah Duncan, Starkey and Bryson Rickman all added to the MHS lead at the end of the game.

Not in the scoring sheet, but just as important for MHS in the win was the defensive output by Landree Gray.

In the fourth quarter, LC’s Trevor Lindsey knocked down a 3-pointer, as did Hilt and McLaughlin. McLaughlin sank three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. As for Hilt, he finished the game with three 3-pointers for nine points.

Also scoring in the fourth for LC were Blake Croy and Lampkin.

MHS also won both the freshmen and JV games Tuesday night. MHS won the JV game by a 33-30 score with Dakota Irvin and Kobe Penwell each scoring eight points for MHS. Raymond Connor led LC with 15 points.

The freshman game saw MHS win by a 27-21 score. MHS was led by Preston Anderson with six points, and LC was led by Nicholas Bennington with 10 points.

The Tigers will play in a South Central Ohio League game on Friday, Feb. 18 when they host the Hillsboro Indians.

LC will have a Southern Hills Athletic Conference game on Friday, Feb. 18 when they host the Ripley Blue Jays.