By Josh Brown
BRANDT — By his own admission, Bethel boys basketball coach Brett Kopp didn’t say anything particularly inspirational at halftime with his team trailing Bellbrook by four points.
“I mean, it wasn’t a Knute Rockne speech,” he said. “Just that we’re good enough shooters that eventually they’ll start falling. Just defend the basketball, and we’re going to get our shots.”
Ryan Rose scored 16 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, Kendal James battled his way to a double-double and poured in 13 of his 15 points after the break and the Bees (2-0) turned a 23-19 halftime deficit into an impressive 52-40 victory over the Golden Eagles (1-1) in their home opener Monday night at Bethel.
“This is a good win for us,” Kopp said. “Bellbrook is going to be very, very good. They’re going to have a lot of wins by the time I have to put in records for the tournament (seeding). They’re big, they’re physical. This was a great win for us.”
It was a feat made even more impressive by the fact that it was the Bees’ second game without their returning leader, senior point guard Caleb South.
“Somebody’s got to step up,” Kopp said. “Literally, it’s the next man up. Kendal’s been that guy scoring-wise, Alex (van Haaren) and Korry (Hamlin) are playing a lot more minutes now, Ryan doesn’t come off the floor. It’s not necessarily the scoring that we’re picking up slack on. It’s the leadership and the minutes — we only have seven guys that rotate in on varsity, and that’s two games in a row we’ve been in foul trouble.”
Rose finished with 24 points, five rebounds and four assists, while James added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Van Haaren scored four of his six points in the fourth quarter with two big buckets inside to help the Bees pull away, Jacob Evans had five points and helped on the defensive end with nine big rebounds to eliminate Bellbrook’s second-chance points that were an issue early on, and Jared Evans pitched in two points.
“When you look at Ryan and Jacob and Korry, they’re three-year varsity players. They know what they can do,” Kopp said. “They’ve experienced it. I don’t think Alex, Kendal, Jared … I don’t think they know what they can truly be, how special they can be on the basketball court. This is giving them a chance to showcase that. We challenged Alex, told him he needed to be tough in the post, and he was. I was proud of his effort tonight. All of their efforts.”
After the teams traded baskets and the lead six times early on, Bellbrook used that size advantage in the half-court game to gain a small edge, then Donnie Crouch hit a 3 to put the Eagles up 16-10 after the first quarter. They led by as many as 10 at 20-10 early in the second quarter before back-to-back 3s by Rose and Jacob Evans cut the lead to 20-16. Bellbrook’s Caleb Scott hit a 3 to end the run, but Rose answered with another bomb to cut the lead to 23-19, which was where things remained at the break.
From there, Bethel got back to what it does best.
“It’s no secret that we like to play as fast as humanly possible,” Kopp said. “We played at their pace early. We didn’t want to play at their pace, so we had to pick up the pressure a little bit.
The Bethel defense limited the Golden Eagles to nothing in the paint in the third quarter, with three 3s by Scott being all it allowed. The Bees, meanwhile, got back-to-back 3s by Rose and James to retake the lead at 27-26, and after a Scott 3 briefly gave the lead back to Bellbrook, Rose drove to the basket to tie the score. One more Scott 3 put Bellbrook up 32-29, but James made a pair of free throws and then — after having one basket waved off on a charging call — drove in for a layup to give Bethel a 33-32 lead going into the fourth quarter, and the Bees never trailed again.
“We sped them up, which led to either quick shots — or heck, even if they made a shot, we were getting the ball back quicker, and we were going,” Kopp said. “So we were able to speed them up, we made some 3s, we weren’t rushing shots. We’re still a very good ball club.”
The Bees showed that in the fourth, putting the game away with some big plays early and then hitting enough free throws down the stretch to seal it. After Bellbrook tied the game at 33-33 with a free throw, Ben Lawson hit Van Haaren for a bucket inside to put Bethel on top, then Rose hit a pull-up 3 to extend the lead. Bellbrook was able to cut the lead to four at 43-39 with three minutes to go, but Van Haaren scored in the paint again and James scored on a putback to make it 47-39 with 1:35 to go, and Rose went 5 for 6 from the free throw line from there to ice it.
Bethel, the reigning Cross County Conference champion, opens league play with a pair of road games this weekend — at Mississinawa Valley Friday and Ansonia Saturday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.