By Josh Brown
BRANDT — In its previous two wins, Bethel started fast and strong, jumping out to big leads.
The Bees didn’t come out with the same fire against Carroll, though, and it proved costly.
The Patriots — winners of three straight and coming off an emotional 50-48 victory at Greater Catholic League rival Alter on Friday — held the Bees to only two first-quarter field goals and held their leading scorer, sophomore point guard Caleb South, to only two first-half points. And while Bethel rallied in the fourth quarter, cutting what had been an 18-point deficit down to six at one point, Carroll was able to hold on late for a 52-43 victory Tuesday at Bethel.
It was a disappointing loss for the Bees (14-4), who had won three straight coming in and were looking to add a quality win against a Division II opponent to their resume before this weekend’s D-III sectional tournament draw. Against Ansonia and Jefferson in its last two games, Bethel had combined to outscore its opponents 46-14 in the first quarter — but Carroll (12-7) limited the Bees to a Tyler Terry jumper, a 3 by Nate Rimkus and one free throw to take a 14-6 lead after one.
“Our motto all season long has been to get to the rim. Even if we don’t finish, we take it all the way to the rim,” Bethel coach Brett Kopp said. “Tonight, we settled for jump shots. Contested jump shots.
“It’s not like Carroll did anything magic on defense. They just forced us to take jump shots, and we settled. We weren’t in attack mode like we have been.”
Part of the cause of the was the Patriots’ efficiency on offense early, as D.J. Sommers found room to work inside. Carroll hit a pair of outside shots early, then they fed Sommers inside — and he had 11 of the Pats’ 14 first-quarter points.
“We can’t get our momentum from the offensive end. All that energy needs to be exerted on the defensive end,” Kopp said. “They attacked some of the mismatches they had, went into the post with some of their bigger guards against our smaller guards. But we can’t just sit around and wait for our offense to come around. We have to get that momentum from the other end.”
But the Bees’ shooting woes continued in the second quarter, and Carroll finished off a 14-point run to make it a 23-6 game before Jesse Nickell came off the bench and hit a 3 late in the half. Nickell then came away with a loose ball on the defensive end and found South on a fast break, who converted his first points of the game with 1:40 left in the second quarter, and Nickell hit a short jumper to get the Bees to within 10 at 23-13 before TK Robinson got a layup to fall as he fell to the ground right before the half to make it 25-13 Carroll at the break.
And though Bethel struggled from the field, going 5 for 26 in the first half and 17 for 50 in the game, those problems were compounded by a 6 for 14 showing from the free throw line. Carroll, meanwhile, was 16 for 38 from the field and 16 for 22 from the line, going 8 for 8 over the course of the first three quarters to build its biggest lead of the game at 40-22 heading into the fourth quarter.
“Sixteen free throws is not a lot. That stat shows that we were not attacking the rim early like we have been,” Kopp said. “These kids feed off of that energy, but it has to start on the other end of the floor, on defense.”
And in the fourth quarter, it began to.
South spun into the lane and hit a tough shot to start the fourth, then he found Rimkus in transition after a steal to make it 40-26. South later found Terry on a fast break after another defensive stop, and a free throw by Terry after the Patriots missed the front end of a one-and-one cut the lead to 42-30.
Carroll pushed the lead back to 15, but a floater by South and then a putback off his own miss by the sophomore made it an 11-point game. After another Patriot bucket, South and Terry hit back-to-back buckets to cut the lead to single digits — and another stop led to a drive by Terry that trimmed the deficit to 47-40 with 1:10 to go.
A free throw made it an eight-point game again, but South beat the defense back and scored to make it 48-42 with less that a minute to play. The Patriots went 4 for 6 from the free throw line in that final minute, though, with Summers going 3 for 4 — and 8 for 9 in the game — to seal the win.
“That does show the kids fight to the end,” Kopp said. “We did not play well in the first half, but even when things were not going right, the kids fought their tails off to try to win a basketball game, and that’s a credit to my kids.”
South led the Bees with 15 points and four assists, with 11 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. Terry added 10 points and four rebounds, Nickell and Rimkus scored five apiece, Jacob Evans had four points and six rebounds and Ian Anderson had three points, six rebounds and four steals.
Sommers led all scored with 21 points and eight rebounds for the Patriots. Stafford Stevens and Ben Austin each scored eight, Jack Steltsam had four points and six rebounds, Robinson had four points and four assists and Nolan Cron had four points.
Bethel faces its biggest test of the season Friday night, traveling to Tri-Village for a matchup with the Cross County Conference rival Patriots — with a chance to pull into a second-place tie in the conference behind Miami East with a win.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.