By Josh Brown
BRANDT — In the end, the Bethel boys basketball team simply had more weapons than Troy Christian.
The way the Eagles fought back in the end, they made all the difference.
With Troy Christian holding star point guard Caleb South to only two points in the first half, the rest of the Bees hit clutch shots and staked the team out to an early 16-point lead. And with both teams dealing with foul trouble all night, Bethel’s depth allowed it to continue running different defenders at the Eagles’ star center James Anderson and limit their outside shooters enough to hold on for a 56-47 victory Friday night at Bethel High School.
“Caleb’s figuring out that everyone else is going to play tough against him, so we’ve got to find other guys that can score. And guess what? We’ve got other guys that can score,” Bethel coach Brett Kopp said. “It’s as simple as that. Guys who, when they are confident in themselves, are going to shoot well.
“We played 10 guys and got after it a little bit. We had some foul trouble, but when I bring in a guy who’s athletic and can play just as hard to give a starter a blow, then that’s in favor of us. Not many teams, especially at our level, are going to have that.”
And not only did Bethel improve to 16-2 overall with the win, but it clinched a share of the Cross County Conference title — Franklin Monroe suffered its second league loss of the season with a 48-45 defeat against Twin Valley South, putting everyone else in the conference at at least two league losses except 10-0 Bethel with two conference games to play.
“We found out tonight that we’ve got at least a share of the title,” Kopp said. “It’s been since 2010, and we haven’t won it outright since the 1980s. It’s great. That was the No. 1 goal and the kids knew it and are excited, but we want to clinch it. We want it outright, they want it outright — and with that said, in comes Tri-Village next Friday, the defending league champion. Two years ago, they were state champs. It’s going to be a packed house and a great environment, and the kids are going to have to be ready to go. And I have a feeling they will be.”
The Eagles (11-6), meanwhile, came in winners of three of their last four, including an emotional overtime victory over Metro Buckeye Conference leader Dayton Christian, the Warriors’ first loss in MBC play this season. And though Troy Christian came in both motivated and with a plan against Bethel, implementing it proved to be difficult.
“We had 100 students make the trip to come over here,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “Our kids were pumped. We may have been a little overexcited. We didn’t start out the way Troy Christian basketball is used to. We made uncharacteristic mistakes and were doing some silly things. But once we got into what we wanted to do, we were able to do some things we focused on.
“Two things. The first, Caleb South is a very good basketball player. But the second, the Bethel Bees are a very good basketball team. When you have that combination, that’s why you’re 16-2 and CCC champions. They have a lot of pieces that fill in that puzzle. We’ve got to decide what we want to do — do we give up the perimeter, or the drive, or the inside game? We chose tonight to force other people to shoot the basketball, and they made the shots.”
After Anderson gave Troy Christian the lead with a bucket in the paint on the game’s opening possession, the Bees scored the next 18 unanswered points, beginning with a 3 by Ian Anderson — one of Bethel’s three 3s in the opening quarter. Ryan Rose hit a jumper around a screen, Tyler Terry scored on a putback and Rose canned a 3 to make it 10-2 midway through the first, then Anderson hit another 3 and Jesse Nickell scored a fast break layup. A steal by Anderson led to a layup by South — hit first and only points of the half — but Bethel still led 18-2 before a three-point play by Anderson got the Eagles back on the board to end the quarter.
“That says a lot about our kids — we were down 18-2,” Zawadzki said. “You can’t hide that fact. They came out and punched us. But here’s the neat thing — our kids didn’t settle for that. They could’ve went home, but we kept fighting and fighting. I’m proud of the kids. We just have to eliminate that four-, five-minute gap at the beginning.”
After five quick points to start the second quarter and give the Bees a 23-5 lead, South picked up his second foul with 4:26 to go until halftime — and Bethel didn’t score again until after the break. Troy Christian couldn’t take full advantage, though, as Bethel’s defense remained tough, and the Eagles went into halftime trailing 23-12.
“Troy Christian is 11-6, they’re a good basketball team, and they’re going to be a top four seed in the Division IV sectional,” Kopp said. “That’s a good win for us. They’ve got a 6-foot-8 kid (Anderson) that is athletic and can move, and that’s good for us to play against.”
South kicked off the second half by finishing a break after a Terry steal, and later in the quarter — right after South picked up his third foul — he hit a 3 to give the Bees a 17-point lead at 38-21. But Colt Tanner answered with a 3, then the Eagles drew a charge on South for his fourth foul with 41 seconds to go in the quarter. Tanner then scored on a back door lob from Ben Schenk, and Troy Christian was down 38-26 heading into the final eight minutes.
By the end of the fourth, though, five players — three Eagles and two Bees — were playing with four fouls. The Bees stretched the lead back to 17 at 51-34 with three minutes to go, but Hayden Hartman hit a 3 to keep Troy Christian alive, then Peyton Spurlock and Anderson both scored on drives to cut the lead to 10 at 51-41 with 1:15 to play. A steal and layup by Schenk got the Eagles within eight, Jacob Evans answered with a quick layup the other way to end the run, but Hartman followed with another 3 to cut the lead to 53-46 with 49 seconds to play. But the Bees — who shot well below their average from the free throw line at 11 for 24 in the game — went 7 for 17 in the fourth quarter, hitting enough to hold on.
South finished with 13 points, six rebounds and three assists and Rose had 13 points, five rebounds and four assists to lead Bethel. Anderson added nine points and five rebounds, Evans had nine points and five rebounds, Terry had eight points, five rebounds and five steals, Nickell had three points and Daniel Hagan had one.
Anderson led all scorers with 18 points and six rebounds for Troy Christian, Seth Wynne had six points and eight rebounds, Hartman had six points, Schenk and Tanner had five points apiece, and Spurlock and Joel Thomas each had two points.
Both teams are back in action Saturday, with Bethel hosting Stivers for Senior Night and Troy Christian traveling to Arcanum.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.