By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The Belton Tigers boys’ basketball team continued its turn around under first-year head coach David President last week at the M.T. Rice Memorial Tournament, held at Midway Middle School in Hewitt.
Going into the Tuesday session of pool play, Belton had split games. They lost to Leander Rouse 55-48 and bounced back to beat Lake Dallas God’s Academy 48-40.
In the third and final pool game, Belton and Wharton were locked up it a great battle. The teams were deadlocked at 8-8 at the end of the first quarter and 19-19 at halftime. Wharton took a 32-30 lead at the the end of the third quarter and pulled away for a 54-47 win over the Tigers.
Jackson McGowan scored 19 points and Jordan Russell scored 10 for Belton.
The loss relegated Belton to the Bronze Bracket, taking on Australia in the semifinals.
McGowan continued his hot shooting with seven of Belton’s first nine points to start the game. The Aussies kept pace through the first 4:43 before McGowan, Charles Donlow, Carson Hammond and Jordan Ellis put Belton on a 13-5 run to close out the quarter and give the Tigers a 19-11 lead.
The teams battled in the second quarter, playing to a 11-11 draw for the quarter and Belton holding a 30-22 lead.
Coby Potvin came up big in the third quarter, assisting on buckets by McGowan, Russell, Donlow, Calvin Johnson III and Josh Williamson and getting into the scoring column with a beautiful baseline drive and opposite hand layup. Belton outscored Australia 24-13 in the quarter and led 54-35 going into the fourth quarter.
Belton led by as much as 22 in the fourth quarter and scored 16 points in the final stanza. Australia couldn’t close the gap and the Tigers took home a 19-point victory, 64-45, to advance to the Bronze Finals against Bryan Rudder on New Year’s Eve.
The finals did not start smoothly for Belton. Demarcus Robertson’s three-pointer and Stephen Jefferson’s field goal got the Rangers out to a quick 5-0 lead. Potvin stole another Ranger opportunity, twisted in the lane and smoothly laid the ball off the glass to get the Tigers on the board. Cortne Campbell and Christopher Burgess exchanged buckets with Russell and Lane Holmes towards the end of the quarter. Rudder led 15-9 at the end of the first quarter.
The Rangers extended their lead out to 10, scoring the first four points in the first quarter. Potvin got the Tigers roaring again in the second quarter with a three-pointer, a coast-to-coast drive and layup and a rip from a Ranger hand for a steal, firing up the Belton crowd. Hammond had a pair of three-pointers during the 16-7 run to pull the Tigers within a single point at the break, 26-25.
McGowan and Holmes got the Tigers off to an 11-1 run over the first 4:40 of the second half to give Belton a 36-27 lead. Donlow, Ellis and Williamson all chipped in buckets as part of a 18-9 third quarter, pulling the Tigers out to an eight-point lead after three quarters, 43-35.
The relentless Tigers allowed the first basket of the quarter, then went on a 14-0 run to put Belton on top by 20 points, 57-37, with 2:01 remaining in the game. Rudder closed out the game with a 7-2 run, but Belton claimed the Bronze Bracket Championship with the 59-44 win.
The Tigers are now 12-7, seven more wins than the 2013-2014 season.
“I’m happy for the boys and pleased with the outcome,” President said. “To fight back from the early deficit and just keep battling was special.”
The finish gave Belton high placements in every tournament they have participated in this season, finishing fourth in San Angelo, winning the Greeenville Tournament and winning the Bronze bracket of MT Rice. They play at Killeen Ellison Friday at 7 p.m. and hope that the tournament will reset their vision on a successful District 12-6A run in 2015.
“The guys are consistently improving,” President said. “It will be a matter of time to see how this tournament will help our chances in district.”