In their season opener against tournament host Wabasso Friday, the Cleveland Clippers battled back from a 10-point halftime deficit, got their transition game rolling to take a 4-point lead in the second half, but succumbed to the Rabbit’s hot shooting and fell 83-80.
Head coach Dan Fredrickson thought his Clippers were the better team but left too many points on the floor.
“We scored 80 points tonight, but against this defense I feel like we should have scored 110.”
But ultimately it was defense that was the Clippers’ Achilles Heel, he said.
“I am disappointed in how we guarded. We’ve got to come up with a game plan for us defensively. We can’t be given up 80 points.
Starter Elijah Sullivan made a pair of free throws in the first trip down court after the opening jump, but Wabasso took advantage of a pair of Clipper turnovers, three steals and a trio of baskets from behind the arc to go up 14-2 before Ben Holden dropped a three from the corner.
“We started man (to-man defense) and we just got in such foul trouble the first nine minutes,” Fredrickson said.
The Clippers spent the rest of the half trying to wipe out the deficit. Off the bench, Isaac Mueller hit a couple of threes, and Holden added four baskets and two freebies, but the closest they got was within four, 25-21, after Holden grabbed a rebound and scored. The Rabbits, who sunk four more three pointers in the half, went on a 7-point rally after that, and the Clippers trailed 42-32 at the break.
Cleveland finally caught up though. With the Clippers getting the ball down court quickly, the Rabbits gave up points under the basket, and Mueller’s layup at the 6:20 mark knotted the game at 61. Eric Rohlfing took a Mueller handoff in the back door to put the Clippers up by a basket, and after Mueller stole the ball and tossed it to Rohlfing, the Clippers were up 65-61.
“The effort was great to come back,” Fredrickson said. “The transition was special tonight. We struggled with it early, but in the second half it was really, really good.”
But the Rabbits pulled themselves up with a hat trick of threes and then scored a basket off a steal to go up 72-69. Alex McCabe assisted Holden inside, and the ensuing foul shot tied the game, but the Rabbits answered with a three and then scored a layup and a free throw.
Holden and Rohlfing dropped threes down the stretch but the Rabbits held on for the victory.
Wabasso ended the night with 16 threes, twice as many as Cleveland. Holden led all players with 34 points, 15 of them from three-point land. Mueller had 23 points and 11 assists. Rohlfing had 17 points and 20 rebounds. Holden had 11 rebounds.
Cleveland committed 23 fouls, four more than Wabasso. Holden, Rohlfing and Mueller each had four fouls at the final buzzer while Levi Baker had fouled out.
Saturday’s tournament games were cancelled due to the snowfall. The Clippers take on host Waterville-Elysian-Morristown on Tuesday.