By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TIPP CITY — Bethel’s boys basketball team wasn’t supposed to be as good this year.
Yeah, the Bees didn’t get that memo.
“They don’t expect us to win, and we overcome it,” said senior Kendal James, who hit a pair of free throws and then a transition layup in the final two minutes of overtime to help propel Bethel to a 68-65 victory at Tippecanoe Tuesday night. “We don’t care what anyone thinks. We just play our game and get the ‘W.’”
James, the only returning starter from Bethel’s district runner-up team last season, led all scorers with 27 points — 17 of those coming in the first half — and added seven rebounds and five assists. But with the Red Devils, who had trailed by seven points for most of regulation before Nolan Mader hit a pair of free throws with 10.5 seconds left to force overtime, leading 62-60 with roughly 1:30 left in the extra period, James took over. He scored on a drive to tie the score, then he hit a pair of free throws with 1:19 on the clock to give the lead back to the Bees (2-0).
And after Tippecanoe cut the lead back to one at 64-63 and had the ball with a chance to take the lead,the Devils missed a contested shot inside, Ethan Rimkus grabbed the rebound and kicked to James, who flew down the floor for a transition layup that made it a three-point game.
“Kendal is Kendal,” Bethel coach Brett Kopp said. “From the moment I took over this program and saw him, I knew he was going to be a pretty good player. I think he’s one of the top players in the area. He had some really good players in front of him last year, and he showed spurts. If he plays like that, we’re going to be successful. I think he pressed a little bit when he missed some shots, but when it came down to it he hit two huge free throws for us like he did last Friday. He’s a fun kid to be around, and he’s learning to be a leader.”
“We play in spurts sometimes. Sometimes we get down on ourselves,” James said. “I’ve just got to get used to it, being a leader, being more talkative. Last year, I wasn’t real confident in my leadership. Now this year, I’ve got to take over. But I love all my teammates. They help me out when I’m down, and I help them out when they’re down.”
“James is athletic and quick, and we needed to try to stop him as best we could, but he kind of had his way,” Tippecanoe coach Adam Toohey said. “We got two fouls on him early but couldn’t get the third, then we got four on him going into overtime but could never get the extra one. He’s a really good player, and he controlled that game.”
Tippecanoe then missed a shot at a 3 with 6.7 seconds left and had to foul Jared Evans, who hit a pair of free throws to seal it.
It was a tough loss for the Devils (0-2), who shot well throughout the game, hitting nine 3-pointers and going 10 for 14 from the free throw line on the night. Mader led the way, hitting five 3s and going 8 for 10 from the line to finish with a team-high 25 points, also adding 10 rebounds to post his first varsity double-double. Senior Ben Sauls — Tippecanoe’s only returning regular starter — added 14 points and five assists, while sophomore Zach Frederick hit a pair of 3s and finished with 14 points.
“Nolan and Zach were really big. Sometimes, when you’re inexperienced and young, the climb up is really difficult,” Toohey said. “We have two or three guys with varsity experience, we’re playing some young guys, and I thought they did a great job doing what we’re asking them to do.
“Sometimes when you’re inexperienced, the highs are a little higher and the lows a little lower. We need to learn to play through it emotionally.”
That was especially true at the end of the game. Bethel led by seven at 58-51 with 3:12 left in regulation, but a blocked shot in transition by Jake Rowland gave Mader a chance for the game-tying free throws to send the game to overtime, then a bucket by Nick Robbins put the Devils up 62-60 before James kicked off the Bees’ late-game run.
“We wanted to go at James, but he did a great job of being straight up and not getting fouls called, then we had a couple turnovers in overtime that hurt us and they got out in transition,” Toohey said. “And we got a couple of good looks that just didn’t fall, but we want those guys taking those shots.
“We showed grit, a lot of grit, a lot of fight in us. It’s just getting over that hump. But I love that we stuck with it and didn’t fold when things went bad. I think that was great to see from guys that haven’t played at the varsity level.”
Johnny Baileys added four points for the Devils, Patrick Manes and Griffin Caldwell each scored three and Robbins finished with two as Tippecanoe — which next hosts Piqua Friday night in Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division play — outrebounded Bethel 36-32.
The Bees countered by winning the turnover battle, though, 21-12, and also had three players in double figures. After James’ 27, Evans finished with 11 points and five rebounds, Mutlu hit three of the Bees’ eight 3-pointers and finished with 10 points, Rimkus added seven points, Nick Schmidt had six points, five rebounds and four assists, Cade Young added five points and Dylan Williams had two points and five rebounds.
Now two-time defending Cross County Conference Bethel — which held off a talented Bellbrook team on opening night for a 49-46 victory — takes on Newton Friday night to open league play and begin its title defense.
“We beat two really good teams,” Kopp said. “The Mader kid (Nolan) gave us trouble, and Micah (Mutlu) defended his tail off. Mader is a talented player. We didn’t help ourselves, we missed some free throws towards the end, but like I told the kids, they played hard — and I can deal with anything on the basketball floor after a victory. We can fix things, and if we’re having growing pains while winning, that’s something that we can build on.”
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.