Lynchburg-Clay's Damin Pierson led the Mustangs in scoring with 21 points against the Ripley Blue Jays in the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic at the Southern State Community College Patriot Center. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
Lynchburg-Clay's Damin Pierson led the Mustangs in scoring with 21 points against the Ripley Blue Jays in the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic at the Southern State Community College Patriot Center. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
In a rare event where the season-opening game was within the conference, the Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs were unable to become the victors over the Ripley Blue Jays at the fourth annual Ohio Valley Hoops Classic Friday night.

The transition game of the Blue Jays was just too much for LC to overcome in their season opener, allowing Ripley to gain the win by a 73-56 score, as RHS went from a three-point lead after three quarters to outscoring the Mustangs 26-12 in the fourth frame.

“One thing with these kids is I’m never going to fault their effort,” LCHS head coach Matt Carson said. “They played hard, but we have to do a better job in transition defense. Maybe the film will tell me different, but I thought our quarter court defense held up for the most part all night.

“We tried to go zone for a little bit, but when they (RHS) got up nine points, we couldn’t afford to do that. That was not how we played all preseason and this is the best team we’ve seen so far including the preseason. We’ll get better, we hit a little bit of a road block tonight. We have four days to get better and play Friday and Saturday next week and the kids are excited to get back home.”

For the first three frames, the game was closely played, with there being just a one-point differential at the conclusion of the first half where RHS (1-0) led by a 11-10 score over Lynchburg-Clay, with the score being tied four times in the first at two, four, six and 10.

That first frame had four players score points for the Mustangs — who were the home team on the scoreboard at the Southern State Patriot Center — with Noble Walker, Ray Conner and Quintin Smith all scoring two points and Eric McLaughlin adding four points in the first eight minutes.

The SHAC game got a little more interesting in the second quarter with the Blue Jays taking advantage of fast break chances and some three-point shooting to outscore the Mustangs 22-14 in the second for a 33-24 halftime advantage.

Ripley began the quarter with a 3-pointer, but McLaughlin answered with a jumper of his own, scoring two of his final 16 points on the basket.

“Eric did some good things for us, even though he was getting double-teamed and some shots just didn’t fall,” Carson said.

Following a layup by RHS, Conner scored a point with a free throw, and Damin Pierson stole the ball and raced to the hoop for two points, while also bringing LC back to within a point of the Blue Jays at 16-15 with 6:12 left in the second frame.

Pierson led the Mustangs with 21 points, finishing the game with five two-point buckets, one 3-pointer and he was 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.

“Damin put us on his back for a little bit, and Ray Conner came off the bench and had some big offensive rebounds for us,” Carson said.

The Blue Jays answered with an 8-0 run for a 23-15 lead. LC came back with a jumper from Hilt and two straight put-back baskets from Conner to make it a two-point game at 23-21 with 2:43 on the scoreboard. Conner finished with nine points, making four two-point baskets and one free throw.

RHS took control once again in the final 2:24 of the first half by outscoring the Mustangs, 10-3 with the three points for LC coming from a 3-pointer by Pierson. In that 10-point run by the Blue Jays, they also hit a 3-pointer, giving them two for the second quarter.

With the Blue Jays leading 33-23 entering the third quarter, the Mustangs played their best quarter of the game in the third, outscoring the Blue Jays, 20-14, making it a three-point scoring differential at the conclusion of the third at 47-44 in favor of Ripley.

That third frame began with a jumper from McLaughlin, but a trey by Nigel Royal increased the RHS lead back to 10 points. As the quarter continued, Hilt, Conner and McLaughlin added points to the LC total. Points from Hilt, Conner and Smith equaled an 8-0 run by the Mustangs getting to within three points of the lead at 40-37. Hilt ended the game with five points.

Following a 3-pointer by the Blue Jays, Pierson had a three-point play, and McLaughlin had a slam dunk on a put-back attempt with 1:28 on the clock to once again make it a three-point deficit. The two teams exchanged two more baskets to leave the Blue Jays up three points entering the fourth.

LC had too many troubles with their transition defense in the fourth, and the Blue Jays took advantage with seven two-point baskets, two 3-pointers and six free throw conversions for a 26-point quarter.

The Mustangs’ scoring in the fourth consisted of points by Pierson, McLaughlin and Hilt. LC had three field goals in the fourth, with two two-point baskets by Pierson and a 3-pointer from Hilt.

For the game, the Blue Jays totaled 23 two-point field goals, six 3-pointers and were 9-of-17 from the free-throw line. LC went 12-of-17 with their free throw shots, while also collecting 19 two-point field goals and two 3-pointers in the game.

Ripley had four players score in double figures, led by Landon Dearing with 17 points (two 3-pointers) and Brian Dunn with 14 points. Ryan Harney totaled 13 points, and Jaki Royal had 12 points.

Next for the Mustangs is a SHAC game on Friday, Dec. 8 vs. Peebles at LCHS.

“Our league is a bear,” Carson said. “You look at Eastern, Ripley, North Adams and West Union … the big school division in our league, it is going to be a fight every night. The final score of this game was not indicative of how close the game was.

“At the end, we had to do some things we aren’t used to doing, like full-court pressing on a big floor like this, but we’ll address that. The big thing is the kids are playing hard. We have to do a better job of being efficient on the offensive end, but we’ll get there and be better at the end than where we are now.”