By BRIAN CUNNIFF
WILDWOOD — If you’ve never seen the boys basketball team from Clayton High School play, think Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount teams.
With Westhead as coach and using what was termed at the time as a “run-and-gun” style, Loyola Marymount led NCAA Division I basketball in scoring three times in the late 1980s and early 1990s, averaging more than 110 points per game in each of those seasons at a time when many other NCAA teams were playing games in the 60s and 70s.
Clayton plays much the same way as those Loyola Marymount teams — an extremely up-tempo style that forces the game into a frenetic pace, often resulting in one or both teams flirting with 100 points. Yes, 100 points. In a 32-minute game without a shot clock.
On offense, Clayton takes the first available shot, then blitzes the paint in an attempt for an offensive rebound. On defense, they simply want their opponents to hurry up and shoot so they can get the ball back.
On Monday, Wildwood fell into Clayton’s trap, losing its season opener, 96-71.
While entertaining to the fans and fun for the players, a game against Clayton can be maddening for a coaching staff. And Monday’s sure was to Warrior coach Scott McCracken.
“We really wanted to slow it down,” McCracken said. “We were probably more prepared for Clayton than we normally would be because this was our first game. We don’t have the same kind of offensive team we’ve had the past couple years, so we didn’t want to push the ball. But they pushed it at us, we came out flat and they made a lot of shots early. Then you get behind, and you’re trying to catch up and now you’re playing their style. That’s tough.”
The teams combined to attempt 153 shots, which shakes out to close to five attempts per minute. Clayton, which had 50 points at halftime, made 34 of 77 from the field, including 9 for 28 from three-point range. Wildwood was 30 for 76, which included 10 of of a whopping 35 attempts from behind the arc. Where Clayton really had the advantage was at the foul line, though. The Clippers made 20 free throws in 32 attempts, while Wildwood was only 1 for 3 from the line.
The Clippers often force tired teams into fouling by making sure their opponent isn’t as fresh as they are. Clayton employs a substitution pattern that sees at least 10 players see about the same amount of action each game, with five players subbing for five players just about every two minutes. Think line changes in ice hockey.
In some seasons, Clayton’s style almost seems like lunacy because the team doesn’t have the talent to beat decent to good opponents through playing so fast. But this year’s Clayton group is more talented and athletic than usual. They had three players score at least 20 points — Max Cruz and KyShon Weldon each netted 22 and Dorien Depina added 20. Those three shot a combined 23 of 46 from the floor.
“They have a couple kids that can really shoot,” McCracken said. “They’re pretty good. I think this is the best team they’ve had in a while.”
Tyler Tomlin scored 18 points, Seamus Fynes added 13 points and Max McGrath chipped in 10 points for Wildwood.
The Warriors don’t have much time to rest after competing in such a high-tempo contest. They travel to Pitman Tuesday for the second of back-to-back games.