Bethel gives Bulldogs first loss

Published 11:10 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bethel’s Ovie Soko made his first two three-pointers of the night in the last 90 seconds of the game, including a go-ahead trey with 0:26 remaining, and the Peninsula District’s Bruins (8-1), who defeated King’s Fork in last season’s Eastern Region Tournament championship, handed the Bulldogs (9-1) their first loss of the season, 56-54, in the championship game of the Ronald Curry Christmas Classic on Monday night.

The contest between the two region finalists from last February, and two teams which could well meet again late in the season this time around, swayed back and forth with lead changes throughout the game.

King’s Fork was led by Davante Gardner, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Gardner, a 6-foot-8 junior, led the Bulldogs in scoring in all three tournament games in Hampton.

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Jontel Evans, a senior point guard who has committed to play basketball at Virginia, led the Bruins and controlled the pace of the game most of the night. Evans had 16 points, nine assists and five rebounds.

The Bulldogs started the night slowly. In the first five minutes, KF made 1 of 8 shots from the floor and committed four turnovers as Bethel built a 12-3 lead.

KF rallied, mainly with Jaquon Parker aggressively driving to the basket, and tied the game 15-15 on a rebound and short put-back basket by Gardner. KF moved ahead 20-17 on a three-pointer by Derek Wright.

Wright went on to drain three three-pointers, and a couple of KF’s treys came at critical points, but overall the Bulldogs shot 5 of 22 from long range resulting in a number of defensive stops for Bethel.

KF held on to a 27-23 lead at the half. Parker with eight points, Wright with seven and Jamar Wertz and Gardner with six points each made up all of KF’s first-half scoring.

The teams traded baskets for much of the third period. KF led 38-34 after a deep three-pointer by Wright, but Bethel answered to take a 41-40 lead going to the fourth period.

Evans and Tre Lee carried the Bruin offense, scoring 16 of Bethel’s 18 third-quarter points. As the game moved on, Evans controlled the tempo more, taking advantage of a fast-break when it was there, but more often slowing the pace down and effectively running Bethel’s offense.

A rebound and basket by Gardner pushed KF to a 50-46 lead as the clock neared three minutes remaining. From there, Bethel went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc for one final lead change.

Lee hit one a few seconds after Gardner’s basket. After a pair of free throws by Gardner, KF got a defensive stop and scored, attacking Bethel’s trapping attempts ending with Jay Copeland dishing to Gardner for a lay-in and a 54-49 lead.

Soko made a trey from the top of the key then a travel call on Wertz gave the ball back to Bethel.

A patient Bruin possession lasted about 45 seconds and Soko, from the same spot, was left open and he hit the shot with 0:26 left, putting Bethel up 55-54.

A charging foul by Parker wasted one KF chance to go back in front. The Bulldogs then faced a rare situation. KF had only four team fouls in the half, and had to foul three times before sending the Bruins to the line. By that time, there were 8.1 seconds left.

Lee made one free throw, then came a rarer situation. Bethel had committed only three team fouls in the half. The Bruins fouled KF repeatedly, forcing the Bulldogs to inbound the ball on the sidelines until, inbounding the ball with 0.6 seconds left, the best shot KF got was a contested, 35-foot shot by Wertz, which went wide.

Lee and Soko scored 13 points each for Bethel. Wright had 13 points for the Bulldogs. Parker had 10 points and five assists.

The Bulldogs return to Southeastern District play on Jan. 6 against Lakeland.