By Josh Brown
CLAYTON — Having not played for 10 days, the Bethel boys basketball team was bound to be a bit rusty.
But down 8-0 at the start of the game rusty? And though it may not have been what coach Brett Kopp expected, he still had faith in his team.
“I’ve got a bunch of guys I trust,” he said. “It’s not like I thought the game was over. We struggled, and we’re going to struggle from time to time — but it’s always about how we’re going to react.”
Kopp’s trust was well placed.
Second-seeded Bethel (18-5) rallied from that 8-0 deficit to begin the game, tying the score on an alley-oop dunk from Kendal James to Alex Van Haaren to end the first quarter, and once the Bees took the lead they never relinquished it in a 66-49 victory over No. 19 Greenon in the second round of the Division II sectional tournament Wednesday night at Northmont High School.
With the win, the Bees (18-5) advance to face No. 15 Waynesville in Saturday’s sectional final, while Greenon’s season ends at 11-13. And even though Bethel got off to a slow start after the layoff, the layoff is something the team has grown accustomed to over the past few years.
“This is the third year in a row that we’ve taken a bye and had a 10-day break,” Kopp said. “They know me. We practiced and got after it a bit. But at the same time, we’re in the sectional final now and I can still say that we’ve got to get better. We can improve, and we’ve got two days to improve before we face a good Waynesville team.”
The Knights, which defeated Miami East to get the the second round, took advantage of the Bees’ early shooting woes and scored the game’s first eight points before a 3 by Jacob Evans got Bethel on the board with 5:35 left in the first quarter. Greenon continued to hold the lead at 18-11 before the Bees closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to even the score, with James throwing an alley oop to Van Haaren for the game-tying dunk with 1:38 on the clock — and 18-18 is the way the first ended.
“We practice that all week, and the funny thing is that Kendal had a little trouble completing it throughout the week,” Kopp said of the alley oop. “But I had a feeling that they could get it done, so we ran it.
“Nick (Schmidt) and Ben (Lawson) came off the bench and gave us some good minutes. And once we started attacking the rim, we’re pretty tough to beat. Especially when you’re not shooting very well, you’ve got to attack the rim.”
James gave the Bees the lead with a drive to the basket to kick off the second quarter, Van Haaren hit a pair of free throws and James put back his own miss to make the score 24-18 and complete a 13-0 run before the Knights finally got back on the board with a 3 by Cade Rice.
James ended up scoring 13 of his game-high 21 points in the first half to help the Bees take control and added five rebounds, five assists and a pair of blocked shots on the night.
“Kendal is just an athlete, man,” Kopp said. “And he probably left another 10 on the floor, too, but that’s what he can do. Once he truly, truly believes how good he can be, the sky is the limit for him.”
Late in the half, one of James’ blocks led to a pair of Ryan Rose free throws — his first points of the game — then Rose hit his first field goal of the game, a 3 that made the score 31-24 Bethel at the break.
Rose finally got going in the second half, hitting another 3 and then going 12 for 15 from the free throw line in the game to finish with 20 points — 15 coming after the break to help put the game away.
“Ryan, in terms of mental toughness, he wasn’t shooting it well,” Kopp said. “But he got to the free throw line and, since he wasn’t shooting well, got to the rim in the second half. They’re smart kids, and they know how to play the game.”
Greenon wasn’t done, though, remaining in the game down 43-36 heading into the fourth quarter thanks to seven third-quarter turnovers by the Bees. But after the Knights closed to within three at 44-41 early in the fourth, James drilled a clutch 3, then a Van Haaren block led to a 3 by Korry Hamlin in transition that made it a 50-41 game in the blink of an eye, and the closest Greenon got from there was seven points.
“Korry’s that guy that you can talk to him, and he probably forgot that he even hit a bucket,” Kopp said. “He guarded Cade Rice so well tonight, and that’s just what he does. He’s the most selfless kid I’ve ever been around. All these kids want to win, but he’s that kid where he could play one second and we win and he’d have the same reaction if he played every minute and had 30 points. He’s that rare bird that enjoys defense — you have to to guard the other team’s best player.”
After James’ 21 points and Rose’s 20, Evans gave the Bees a third player in double figures by hitting three 3s and finishing with 11 points and six rebounds. Hamlin added eight points and three assists and Van Haaren had eix points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
Cooper Chaffin led Greenon with 13 points, Logan Coppock added 12 points and 11 rebounds, Rice finished with 11 points, Luke Downing had six points and six rebounds, Trevor Anderson had four points and Jaxon Journell had three.
And even though the Bees ended up shaking off the rust and pulling away, Kopp still doesn’t like the fact that they committed 18 turnovers in the game — 11 of them in the second half — especially going into Saturday’s sectional final against Waynesville.
“You can’t turn it over. This is probably the third game in a row we’ve won where we turned it over way too many times,” Kopp said. “That’s got to stop. If the guys want to make it to UD (for the district tournament) or even Kettering (for the regional), we’ve got to fix that. We can’t have another game like that against Waynesville. We just can’t have it.
“Luckily, we have a bunch of kids that understand that we still have to get better to get to where we want to be.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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