In the end, Cedar Ridge head coach Clay Jones thought the Red Wolves played one of its best games of the season on Wednesday. It just wasn’t enough to beat Clinton.

The Dark Horses rallied from a 70-67 deficit with 1:38 remaining by scoring the last five points to defeat Cedar Ridge 75-70 in the final of the Clinton Christmas Tournament at Faison Gymnasium on Wednesday in Sampson County. E.J. Howard led Clinton with 18 points, including a key 3-point play with 1:02 remaining where Kahlil Barrett was called for a block. Howard’s subsequent free throw gave Clinton a 72-70 lead.

Entering the fourth quarter trailing 57-55, Cedar Ridge took the lead with 2:30 remaining after a 3-pointer by Barrett. Peyton Pappas followed with a steal and lay-in to push the advantage to 70-67. In its final five possessions, CRHS was called for a 3-second violation, missed two free throws, and misfired twice from the field.

Pappas led Cedar Ridge with 28. Barrett, a sophomore, added a career-high 16 points.

Clinton took a 45-35 lead after a 3-pointer by Howard with 6:57 remaining in the third quarter. Then Barrett, who was held scoreless in the first half, went to work. He hit consecutive 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to whittle the lead to 45-41. Jacob Thomas responded with a 10-footer and the Clinton lead was down to 45-43. Jonathan Hall completed the 10-0 run after collecting a feed from Khalil Hill to tie the game at 45.

Not only did Barrett score 16 points in the second half, he took three charges.

Barrett joined the CRHS varsity last season as a freshman.

“I didn’t cut him any slack,” said Jones. “He seems to have his best games when teams are pressing us, and running and jumping. He knocked down some big shots tonight and I was real pleased with his effort.”

Pappas and Thomas, who scored 16 points in CRHS’ win over C.B. Aycock on Monday, were included on the All Tournament team. Howard was named Most Valuable Player.

Similar to how Southern Durham attacked the Red Wolves, Clinton pressed full-court for much of the game and played 12 players. With Ikell Knowles out with an injury, Jones brought Shawn Hill up for his varsity debut during the tournament.

“That’s our M.O.,’ said Jones. “We didn’t handle pressure early in the season against Person. That led to a loss. We didn’t handle pressure well against Northern Vance. That led to a loss. Tonight we had a few mistakes. We’re constantly working on it.”

With the holiday tournament over, Cedar Ridge now sets its focus on trying to recover from an 0-3 Big 8 Conference start. With a beginning like that, Jones isn’t in the mood to watch bowl games for the rest of holiday break.

Instead, he’ll be over in Creedmoor on Wednesday morning scouting Chapel Hill, who are playing in the South Granville Holiday Tournament. The Tigers come calling to CRHS on Tuesday night.

“It’s a must-win for us,” said Jones. “We can’t go 0-4 and expect to be in the top of this conference.

Elsewhere, Orange (4-6) defeated Charlotte Olympic 68-48 in the consolation round of the Holiday in the Pines Tournament in Southern Pines on Wednesday. The Panthers play Fayetteville’s New Life Christian Academy in the 5th place game on Wednesday.

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