Arguable the two best basketball teams in Miami County put on a show as Troy Christian outlasted Bethel 66-60 in overtime in a prelude to what may transpire in the state tournament.
BRANDT – You can never assume anything in high school basketball, especially at tournament time.
But believe this – if the Bethel Bees and Troy Christian Eagles meet in two weeks for a sectional championship at Northmont High School, cancel whatever plans you may have made.
Go buy a ticket and go to the game. No guarantees, but I bet you won’t be disappointed.
The Eagles and Bees played an epic season finale Saturday night before a large crowd at “The Hive”, and the visitors shook off a buzzer beating three in regulation to run their winning streak to 16 games with a 66-60 overtime win.
“The 20-win mark is pretty impressive in high school basketball,” said Eagles coach Ray Zawadzki after the Eagles finished 20-2. “This is just the fourth team in school history to win 20 games. The kids set that as a goal at the start of the season and I am happy for them. But I told them ‘We aren’t done’. We have a lot of things that we still want to accomplish.”
“Our kids played hard, they always play hard,” said a subdued Bethel coach Brett Kopp after his Bees finished the regular season at 17-5. “We missed some shots we probably shouldn’t have made, but it is what it is. The only expectation they have from me is to play hard, and for three years now, they have played their tails off every night. I can’t ask any more than that.”
The Bees, playing without injured star Caleb South, who injured his left knee during Friday’s romp over Newton, got off to a horrendous start. Bethel missed 10 of 11 shots in the quarter and trailed 16-4 after 8 minutes.
“I don’t know if that is why we got off to a slow start,” Kopp said when asked about the injury to South. “But yeah, when you lose one of the best players in school history for a while, there is definitely emotions involved. We think he will be back, but the unknown is numbing. We played better after the first quarter.”
Things changed completely in the second quarter, as the Eagles missed 8 of their 10 shots from the floor, and Bethel went on a 21-7 run. Kendall James scored 7 points in the quarter and Ryan Rose added 5 as the Bees took a 25-23 lead into the break.
Bethel missed 6 three-point attempts in the third quarter as Troy Christian regained control. James Anderson, the Eagles 6-9 senior center, asserted himself inside and the Eagles took a 38-31 advantage into the final 8 minutes.
Troy Christian maintained the lead down the stretch, but the Bees would not go away. The Bees got two offensive rebounds off missed threes before Jacob Evans scored to make it 48-47 Eagles with 44 seconds left. James then missed a drive that would have given Bethel the lead.
Ben Schenk buried two free throws to make it a three-point game again, but James made two for the Bees and it was 50-49 with 19 seconds left. Schenk was fouled immediately, and the 6-foot senior calmly made two more from the stripe, and Troy Christian led 52-49.
“Those were big free throws by Ben,” praised his coach. “We struggled at the line early in the season when he was out. We trust Ben in those situations. We want him taking those free throws.”
The Bees played for the final shot, and Korry Hamlin found himself alone in the left corner. His trey ripped the net with 1.3 seconds to play, setting off an eruption from the Bethel fans. The Eagles, however, did not panic.
“I felt pretty good when we got the three at the end of regulation,” Kopp explained. “I have a lot of confidence in these kids. They want to win so bad. On the other hand, they still had a 6-9 kid who is pretty darn good, and they are well-coached. It was a fun game to be a part of. I just wish we could have come out on the other end.”
“We talk about that,” Zawadzki said. “It’s a next play mentality. They made the three so let’s move on. Let’s go get the tip and go right after it in the overtime. We believe in what we are dong offensively and defensively. It was a lot of fun. It was a great night of high school basketball.”
Jackson Kremer scored out of the paint to give Troy Christian the overtime lead, and Cameron Strine followed with a three-point play to make the lead 57-52. That turned out be enough as the Eagles made 10 of 15 from the line in the extra session to keep the Bees at bay.
The Eagles, champions of the Metro Buckeye Conference, won their 16th straight game despite allowing a season-high 60 points. Anderson scored 14 of his team-high 20 points after halftime, while Schenk had 11 of his 17 in the second half. Strine also finished in double figures with 11.
“Everything starts with James,” Zawadzki acknowledged. “He is the one with the D-I scholarship. He’s the player of the year in the conference. So it starts with him. He is surrounded by a great supporting cast, and that goes all the way through the roster. What’s really good is when it all comes together like it has for the last 16 games.”
Bethel, which celebrated back to back Cross County Conference titles Friday Night, got a terrific performance from Kendall James. The 5-8 junior stepped up in South’s absence, scoring a game high 25 points, including two in the fourth quarter and overtime. Ryan Rose was the only other Bee in double figures, finishing with 12.
“Kendall James has been the X-factor for us all year,” said Kopp. “He’s 5-8 and can dunk and is one of the better rebounders in our league. If Ryan (Rose) and Caleb weren’t around, he would be averaging 25-30 points a game. I tell people all the time, he can play.”
Troy Christian shot 45% from the floor, 22% from the arc, and 67% from the line, making 20 of 30.
Bethel was just 33% from the field, 40% from the arc, and 57% from the line. The Bees went to the line 21 times, but made just 12.
Troy Christian out-rebounded the Bees 33-31, and had 11 turnovers to Bethel’s 9.
Asked about a possible tournament re-match with the Eagles, Kopp said his team had a lot of work to do first.
“I’m just worried about winning the first game,” he said. “You know, we played without Caleb early in the year, but we had him for six games and if he isn’t back for that first game, we have to be prepared for that. We have to get better offensively. We have to get better defensively and we have to get better finishing possessions. We also have to get better at the rim. I’m just looking forward to Tuesday when we can get back in the gym.”
Zawadzki said his team is taking nothing for granted entering the post-season.
“You are always nervous about the tournament,” he said. “One and done does things to some people. We are confident in what we do, especially defensively. We are approaching the tournament like we did the league – one game at a time. We haven’t talked about game two, game three or game four. We are focusing on Indian Lake. It’s the first time in school history that we will play a CBC school, and we are excited about that.”
After Saturday’s overtime win over Bethel, who can blame Zawadzki for being excited?