By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The Belton Tigers boys basketball team went into Tuesday night’s ball game against the Georgetown East View Patriots knowing that the District 12-6A schedule is approaching quickly.
They used it as a tune up, looking at their bench depth.
The Tigers broke away from the Patriots in the third quarter and coasted to a 56-40 victory. Belton improved their record to 9-6 going into their District 12-6A opener at 6:30 p.m. in Killeen Friday night, Cray Steger drew the first points for the Patriots. Ruben Freeman fed Steven Sauls in the lane for the Tigers to get on the board 2:01 into the game, which started an 8-0 run. Carson Hammond hit a three-pointer to give Belton a 5-3 lead, Freeman chipped in a free throw and Jarian Kerley hit a jumper to extended the lead to five at 8-3. Brandon Garrett and Quinn Stewart combined for a 6-2 run to end the first quarter. Belton led East View 10-9.
Dontori Lott picked up a steal and a layup 28 seconds into the second quarter and Freeman did the same 29 seconds later to give Belton an 11-9 lead. Stewart and Justin Derr picked up field goals within 30 seconds and closed the score 14-13. Great defense by Hammond, Lott, Sauls, Kerley and Kiron Griffin Jr. led to a 6-2, quarter closing run. Garrison Vaughn, playing on varsity for his first game, hit two of four free throws and Lott hit a field to end the half, 20-15.
Following a quarter-opening field goal by Derr, Jordan Russell entered the ball game at the 6:29 mark and made an immediate impact. Following a field goal by Griffin off of a put back, Russell fed Griffin in the paint for a field goal and then fed Hammond for a three-pointer to cap a 7-0 run over the course of 46 seconds to force an East View timeout with the Tigers leading 27-17 with 5:24 to go in the third quarter.
The teams traded field goals before Belton closed out the quarter, with Sauls, Griffin, Hammond and Chaz Vriseno combining for Belton’s final 12 points of the third quarter. The Tigers led 39-28 at the end of the quarter.
Vriseno took a Russell feed and drained a mid-range jumper to give Belton a 13-point lead 16 seconds into the final quarter. Russell was involved with every score in the fourth quarter, as he scored nine points, had three assists and set up Lott in the lane which led to a pair of made free throws. Belton outscored East View 17-12 in the final eight minutes to take a 16-point victory into the district opener.
Belton head coach David President was happy with the effort, but acknowledged that the slow start was due to the amount of games the Tigers have played 12 games in the past two weeks.
“Our guys have been non-stop, but I continue to preach executing on every play,” President said. “We had way too many turnovers in the first half. Our point of emphasis going into Friday is that our guards be aggressive and create plays since we’re without a big man (Jackson McGowan out two weeks with an injury) and need to step up in the role. It was a little sloppy, but it was a win and it is four-in-a-row for us. So I’m happy and it gives us confidence going into Friday night.”
President was able to flex his bench in the second and third quarters, bringing in Vriseno, Vaughn, Lott, Kerley and others.
“We’re still trying to find answers,” President said. “We are still looking for that solid rotation for us and look for consistent players. At the end of the day, we have 12 guys that can help us out. Whether it’s one guy one night, or another guy on another night, we feel like we can go to our bench and get production.”
President is expecting Killeen to be another tough contest, one that will test his team.
“We know that they will come out and shoot,” President said. “They’re going to rebound and going to be aggressive. We have to match that level of intensity. It’s district: Our record is 0-0, their record is 0-0. We’re both going to be looking at getting that first win. So we’re going to have to get out and play to their level.”