By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Damien Mackesy knew exactly where he stood going into Friday’s critical conference matchup against rival Bethel.
Miami East coach Allen Mack keeps his players in the know, after all.
“Oh, I knew. Coach reminded me how far away I was after every game,” said the Miami East senior Friday after he became the sixth Viking to break the 1,000-point mark in his career. In fact, we were kind of happy Tuesday’s game got cancelled, because it would have been at Covington. This way, I got the chance to get there in front of our home crowd, and in our biggest conference game of the year so far, against Bethel.”
And while his first 11 points got him to the milestone by halftime, the next 13 were what did in the Bees.
With the Vikings clinging to a one-point lead at the break after a back-and-forth first half, Mackesy scored the first six points of the third and then capped off the quarter by drilling a 3 at the buzzer, giving Miami East a big enough cushion to hold onto as the Vikings (11-1, 5-0 Cross County Conference) closed out a hard-fought 63-47 victory over visiting Bethel in front of a packed house Friday night.
Adding to the tournament atmosphere was the fact that Miami East honored its 1996 Division III state championship team before the game, with many of its players, coaches and cheerleaders present to be recognized — as well as its head coach, Mack. And once the final buzzer sounded, the Miami East student section poured out onto the court to congratulate the team.
“That part just doesn’t get old as a high school coach, seeing the kids excited to celebrate a win like that,” Mack said. “That part’s just unscripted, the pure excitement after battling for 32 minutes in a tough game like that. Seeing that never will get old.”
Mackesy led Miami East with 24 points on the night.
“Damien does what Damien does,” Mack said. “He’s so athletic, and he finishes so strong at the rim. It was a great individual achievement for him today, reaching 1,000 points, and he did a great job.”
Where Mackesy really hurt Bethel (11-3, 5-2 CCC), though, was on the defensive end. He had five rebounds and four blocked shots — with all the blocks coming in the second half, when the Viking defense held the Bees to 4 for 17 from the field. Mackesy also disrupted the passing lanes around the perimeter with five steals — many of those going the other way for easy layups — as the Vikings forced a Bethel team that averaged roughly 10 turnover previously into 22 of them.
“My length, especially playing on the wing at 6-foot-5, really helps out there,” Mackesy said. “We knew they’d be a good team. We haven’t played anyone with a 6-7 post player that also has good guard play yet, so this was a good game for us to have now. Everyone played well.”
“Mackesy, when he gets out in transition, is scary good,” Bethel coach Brett Kopp said. “They’re a good basketball team. They’re big and they’re going to rebound the ball. Sometimes when shots weren’t falling tonight, we forced some things and turned it over. If you can’t hit shots against their zone, they’re tough to beat — and we didn’t hit shots.”
That wasn’t true in the first half, though, as Bethel’s sophomore point guard Caleb South was nearly perfect from the floor, scoring 18 of his game-high 29 points before the break. Ten of those points came in the first quarter as the Bees took a 15-14 lead, but the teams fought back and forth throughout the second quarter until a Brandon Mack free throw gave the Vikings a 29-28 halftime lead.
At that point, Bethel was 9 for 19 from the field, while the Vikings were 11 for 27 — and the Bees held a double-digit lead on the boards, too.
But the Miami East defense responded in the third quarter, preventing South from getting back in transition and turning around the rebounding battle. The Vikings held the Bees scoreless in the third quarter until a free throw by South with 1:22 remaining, drawing a pair of charges to go along with the Bees’ 1 for 10 performance from the field in the quarter.
“I think our defense, which has been the backbone of our program for years, our defense in the third quarter and the whole second half really made it difficult for Bethel to score,” Mack said. “South was on his game pretty much all night. We know about his ability to drive, but he went 3 for 3 from 3 to start out, and that made it difficult for us to defend them. But the kids responded in the second half.”
“We’re just very athletic and like to get out in transition — and they stopped that,” Kopp said. “That was their adjustment at halftime, and it hurt us. Shots just didn’t fall for us, then they got out in transition against us. We didn’t defend or box out well as a whole, and top to bottom, we’ve just got to shoot the basketball better.”
A layup by South with 1:00 left in the third quarter kept the Bees within striking distance at 39-31, but the Vikings chewed up the rest of the clock and, after the ball had been knocked loose, Mackesy won the race to it, scooped it up and drilled a 3 to give the Vikings momentum going into the fourth. South scored the first four points of the fourth to get the Bees back to within seven, but that was the closest they would get the rest of the way.
“Mackesy cashing in that scramble play to hit that 3 right before the buzzer to end the third, that was a turning point,” Mack said. “In the third against their zone, we were more patient and determined to work the ball inside throughout. Our defensive effort in the third and then hitting that backbreaker shot at the end, that was huge.”
Logan West added 12 points, four rebounds and two assists for the Vikings, Kley Karadak scored nine points off the bench — all in the second half — Brandon Mack added seven first-half points, Ryan Haney scored five and Braxton Donaldson had four.
Tyler Terry had seven points and five rebounds for the Bees, Evan Hawthorn had three points and six rebounds and Ian Anderson had four points.
Next up for both teams are the Covington Buccaneers — Miami East will travel to Covington Monday for a makeup game, while Bethel will host the Buccs Friday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.