LOG MOUNTAIN — Showing the intensity that coach Lewis Morris says they’ve lacked in recent games, the Bell County Bobcats jumped out to 18-0 lead and rolled to an 80-38 win over Middlesboro Friday night.
“They worked hard, they were aggressive, they rebounded the ball and they were moving the basketball. It’s a totally different team when they’re moving,” Morris said. “The effort was a lot better and we’ve got to play like that. Whatever we’re doing we’ve got to play hard and they know that. When we come out and we’re moving we’re not too bad.”
Pressure defense from the Bobcats, whether it was in their 2-2-1 press or their tight half-court zone, forced Middlesboro into ten turnovers in the game’s first six minutes. The Jackets didn’t get on the scoreboard until Zack Riddle’s free throw at the 1:34 mark of the first quarter.
Middlesboro came into the game short-handed. Junior forward Timmy Helton missed the game after spending time in the hospital with a virus this week. Coach Russell Thompson said the flu bug had hit the team during practice this week and senior Cameron Rancher didn’t start after missing all week with his sprained ankle.
Thompson inserted Jake Taylor, Derek Smith and Donnie Foister into the starting lineup along with sophomores Riddle and Michael Wilson.
“I came out there with three guys who had never started a varsity game, Derek Smith maybe one to two. But it was just too much for them right there at the beginning,” he said. “It was a spiralling effect once Bell got the momentum and it was hard for our team to get it back.”
Tanner Lefevers opened the scoring and Ryan Cox added a pair of baskets inside. Ben Madon came away with a steal and found Lefevers for another baskets to make it 8-0 with 5:25 to play in the first.
Madon added a steal and layup of his own and Kyle Lee scored after grabbing an offensive rebound. After the teams traded misses and turnovers Madon again stole the ball and took this one all the way in for a dunk. He was fouled on the play and added the free throw to push the Bobcat advantage to 15-0 with 2:38 remaining in the first quarter.
It was 18-0 after Bryan Thacker’s 3-pointer with just under 2:00 left in the quarter.
The Jackets never recovered from the early onslaught. Rancher scored a pair of baskets and Riddle hit another free throw, but Bell got a 3 from Lee and another basket from Madon to take a 23-6 lead into the second quarter.
“It got chippy a little bit and we showed our youth by letting the crowd get into our head,” Thompson said. “The ball wasn’t falling our way, the calls were going our way and that’s the sign of a young team.”
Wilson hit a 3 early in the second to bring Middlesboro within 23-9, but that was as close as it would get. Justin Patterson answered with a 3 of his own. Two Madon free throws and a putback by Corey Oslonian made it 30-9. Lee would score eight points in the period and by halftime the Bobcats were up 47-15.
Bell continued to press even with the big lead all through the first half, but Morris said was just to keep his players playing hard.
“I wasn’t worried about the score I just wanted our kids to play hard and continue to play hard. That’s what your supposed to do,” he said. “They’re a young team and Russell does a good job with them. It was just one of them nights where I had been upset with our effort at times this year and if they were going to keep playing hard I was going to keep coaching hard.”
Josh Hunley converted a three-point play on the Jackets’ opening possession of the second half. But it was more of the same after that.
Madon, Lefevers and Lee all scored breakaway baskets following steals and another steal an d layup from Lee made it 60-20 with a little over 3:00 left in the third.
Unfortunately the game was marred when a large portion of the student sections from both sides started streaming out of the gym late in the third quarter to either fight or watch the fight. One of the officials got tripped up along the sideline during the commotion and the game was delayed for a few minutes while he was checked the medical staff.
This incident comes after a scuffle between students broke out following Bell’s game at Middlesboro last Saturday.
Order was soon restored and game played out with the Bobcats going on to win by 42.
Lee led Bell with 17 points while Madon scored 14 and handed out seven assists. Ten other Bobcats dented the scoring column as Morris substituted heavily from the second quarter on.
“Ben is as athletic as anybody around and he’s a hard match-up for most kids around here. When he’s playing and moving and getting people involved it just makes things go better for the whole team,” Morris said. “Kyle’s the same way. When he’s aggressive he’s a pretty good high school player.
“I thought Tanner played well tonight and did a good job, his shot’s going to start falling. I thought everybody that played contributed and did what they were supposed to do.”
Rancher came off the bench to lead the Jackets with 19 points after just being cleared to play earlier in the day.
“He did everything that they had asked him to do at Tri-State and the therapist got him ready. I was looking for a leader and he definitely led us in a positive direction,” Thompson said. “I appreciate that young man’s effort and he brings it night in night out. “
Middlesboro (3-15, 0-6) plays at Whitley County Tuesday as part of a girls-boys double-header. Bell County (12-5, 3-2) travels to Apollo this afternoon and will visit Harlan on Monday.
“We’ve played a tough schedule and it continues to be hard,” Morris said. “Hopefully with two more weeks left before the tournament, that will pay off and we can get on a little roll.”
— — —
Middlesboro 6 9 11 12 — 38
Bell County 23 24 17 16 — 80
MIDDLESBORO (38): Cameron Rancher 19, Zack Riddle 6, Michael Wilson 3, Josh Hunley 3, Boone Bowling 3, Derek Smith 2, Donnie Foister 2, Jake Taylor 0, Patrick Knuckles 0, Logan Miracle 0, Jerrell Stephney 0, DeShawn Harris 0, Blake Davis 0.
BELL COUNTY (80): Kyle Lee 17, Ben Madon 14, Justin Patterson 7, Tanner Lefevers 7, Ryan Cox 6, Tyler Potter 6, Corey Oslonian 5, Jake Patterson 5, Bryan Thacker 4, Jesse Greene 4, Tyler Green 3, John Dudley Hilton 2, Lake Slusher 0.