By Josh Brown
DAYTON — After Wednesday’s Division III district final against Purcell Marian, Bethel coach Brett Kopp could only shake his head.
“I’d like to see the team that’s going to beat that team,” he said of the Cavaliers.
There may not be one.
Purcell Marian, which was ranked No. 3 in the state in the final D-III poll, took over in the second half, turning what had been a two-point Bethel lead into a 19-1 run and cruising from there to a 60-35 victory over the Bees Tuesday at UD Arena to advance to next week’s regional tournament.
Bethel (17-8) led 24-19 late in the second quarter before a three-point play by Kameron Moore made it 24-22 Bees at the half. The Cavaliers (22-3) then scored 16 of the next 17 points to start the third quarter and take a convincing 38-25 lead and never looked back.
After the Bees held the Cavs to 8 for 20 from the field (40 percent) in the first half, Purcell Marian shot 13 for 22 (54 percent) in the second — while holding the Bees to only one second-half field goal and forcing 18 second-half turnovers.
“That’s a great basketball team,” Kopp said. “They’re just so relentless in what they do. We started the game in a 1-2-2 zone, and I think it threw them off a little. We made them shoot 11 3s in the first half, but when they went inside in the second half, my big got in foul trouble.”
“They played the way champions play in the second half,” said Bethel’s sophomore point guard Caleb South, who led all scorers with 20 points in the game. They’re an athletic team. We tried our best to get through their press, our coaches gave us a great gameplan, but they were just a really athletic team.”
South had 13 of his 20 points in the first half, hitting a 3 to open the game and give Bethel the lead. An Ian Anderson bucket made it 5-0 early, but the Cavs scored the next six points to take the lead. From there, the teams fought back and forth, with Purcell finally taking a 13-8 lead after one.
But the Bees fought back, with senior Evan Hawthorn tying the score at 18-18 on a putback, then blocking a shot on the other end — leading to a South layup in transition to give the Bees the lead. Bethel built a 24-19 lead with 2:16 to go in the half, but Moore finished a three-point play in the final minute to cut the lead to 24-22 at the break.
“Our kids just fought so hard,” Kopp said. “They worked so hard and fought so hard to achieve their goal this season, which was winning a sectional title and playing at UD Arena.”
Jordan Gaines hit a 3 to start the third quarter and give the Cavs a 25-24 lead, and they would never relinquish it again. Caleb South hit a layup with 30 seconds left in the third quarter that made the score 41-31 Purcell Marian — but it was the only field goal the Bees would hit in the second half as they finished the game 8 for 27 from the field — 1 for 11 in the second half — along with 25 turnovers.
Gaines hit three of the Cavs’ five 3s and finished with 18 points and five assists to lead Purcell Marian, Moore added 17 points and Ali-Shakir Rashaad scored 10. Jamel Howard chipped in seven points and Qawi Howard had five.
South had 20 points and two steals to lead the Bees, Anderson finished with eight points and nine rebounds, Hawthorn finished with four points, three rebounds and two blocked shots and Tyler Terry had three points and nine rebounds.
“We had a lot of expectations this year — and we’re still young,” Kopp said. “We had two seniors — Evan and Connor Hockett — on the roster. I was really proud of their effort all year. When the kids play as hard as these kids do, it’s easy.”
It was the Bees’ first sectional championship and district final appearance since 2010, said Kopp, himself a Bethel alum who played on the Bees’ 2001 state championship team.
“When I look at a kid like Evan — his sophomore year when they got to the sectional final, there was four of the top 10 teams in the state in Division IV in that sectional, and they ended up playing and losing to Tri-Village,” Kopp said. “To see a kid like him get a medal here, that’s just icing on the cake really. The kids accomplished their goal of getting here, and that was great to see.”
“We started two sophomores, two juniors and a senior this year. We were all still learning,” South said.”It was great to see us achieve our goal of getting back to district, and it was great to see everyone come out and support us.
“But we’ve got nine guys coming back next year. We’ll remember this feeling and build on it next year. We’re learning — and next year, we’ll be able to finish games like that.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.