A shuffled lineup could not stop the Central DeWitt boys basketball team.
Neither could an early double-digit deficit.
The Sabers took both in stride during Friday’s MAC contest with Clinton, using tough defense and a big third quarter to knock off the River Kings, 51-46.
With COVID-19 issues altering the team’s normal starting lineup, a number of Sabers saw their roles expand or were thrust into new ones.
But it did not take long for the group to gel. They jumped out to a 6-2 lead behind six quick points for Shawn Gilbert and closed the gap when Clinton threatened to take over, up 21-11 midway through the second quarter.
Gilbert opened a 10-2 Sabers response with a hoop inside, while Matthew Watters buried three. Clinton answered with a hoop, but Gibson McEwen buried his own three and Watters knocked down two free throws to make it just a two-point game at the half (23-21).
The Sabers carried over that momentum into the second half.
After the River Kings scored first in the third quarter, the Sabers reeled off the next 14 points, highlighted by a pair of threes by McEwen with the last one giving Central DeWitt its own 10-point lead at 35-25.
A pair of Ben Alger hoops to open the fourth quarter and another by McEwen gave the Sabers their biggest lead at 41-29.
Now, it was Clinton’s turn to rally. The River Kings scored the next five points and traded points with Central DeWitt to keep the margin at seven before knocking down back-to-back threes to get all the way back within one at 46-45.
The Sabers, though, would hit their free throws down the stretch — they were 11-of-15 from the line overall — and block a late three-point attempt to preserve their victory.
Gilbert led the way for the Sabers with 18 points, while McEwen was right behind him with 16.
Watters chipped in seven points, while Alger scored all six of his points in the fourth quarter.
The Sabers opened the new year three days earlier with a visit from 4A No. 10 North Scott.
The Lancers forced Central DeWitt to play catch-up from the start, reeling off 14 of the game’s first 17 points.
The Sabers stayed within striking distance until another big North Scott run put things out of reach in its 62-46 victory.
The Lancers shot better than 53 percent from the floor, including over 60 percent of their two-point tries.
The Sabers also made better than 50 percent of their twos, but could not match North Scott’s volume.
Gilbert led a balanced Sabers offense with nine points. Henry Bloom and Kaiden Muhl each had eight points, while John McConohy had six and Watters five. McEwen, meanwhile, dished out five assists.