BENTON -- More experienced, more battle-tested Kelly turned up the defensive heat in a decisive third quarter to defeat a young Clarkton squad 73-60 on Thursday.
The Hawks' defense keyed a 16-0 run early in the second half to blow open a close contest.
"When we play defense, we're a tough team to beat," said Kelly coach Cory Johnson. "When we get down and guard, we're one of the better teams around. When we don't guard and let down a little bit, we struggle and that's what happened in the first two quarters."
Clarkton (12-5), the 10th-ranked team in Class 1 according to the latest Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters poll, stayed close throughout the first half.
The Reindeer hit four of their eight total 3-pointers in the opening quarter to take a 16-15 edge.
The half expired with Kelly clinging to a two-point margin at 26-24.
"Clarkton is a very good ballclub," said Johnson. "Whether they're Class 1 or 4 or whatever, it doesn't matter when you come out against a team that's ranked, they've earned some respect and they can play some basketball. Hopefully, we didn't take them too lightly."
Leading by just 32-29 early in the third period, the Hawks took over on both ends of the court.
"We won the ballgame in the third quarter," Johnson said. "We wanted to set the tone for the second half, which we did for about a quarter-and-a-half and then we kind of relaxed again when we got a 20-point lead on them."
Clarkton, which starts a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors, had no answers for the senior-dominated Hawks.
"They got after us, defensively, picked it up a notch and made us make some really poor decisions," said Clarkton coach Rob Harlow. "When you give a team like that an opportunity to go on a run, you're going to be in a lot of trouble. We're a really young basketball team and they've got to learn to come to play all the time. I was pleased with our effort, for the most part, except for that stretch."
Kelly held a comfortable 52-37 lead going into the fourth quarter, but Clarkton refused to wilt, outscoring the Hawks 23-21 in the final period.
Guard Kendal Deason ignited the Kelly offense.
He scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the third period, 10 in the game-breaking run.
Kent Deason paced the Hawks' first-half offense with 12 of his 17 total. Jordan Felter, who led the Hawks' superior rebounding effort, chipped in with 12 points.
Kelly took advantage of a 14-point differential at the free-throw line. The Hawks hit 22-of-34, while Clarkton sank 8-of-15.
Matt Trudell topped the Reindeer with 17 points, while Josh Mathis and Toby Richardson added 12 and 10, respectively.
Kelly won the junior varsity game 69-60.
The Hawks face two tough Scott-Mississippi Conference rivals next week in Scott City on Tuesday and East Prairie on Friday.