By Jake Thompson
BROWNSBURG — The Bethesda Patriots boys’ basketball team and first-year coach Justin Cook continue to try and find their way together. For spurts last night, the Patriots played very well against visiting Fall Creek Academy.
Unfortunately for Bethesda, those runs were not sustained long enough and the Engineers went home with a 67-53 victory. Cook believes if the Patriots can buy into the team basketball concept, like Bethesda did when going on its runs, the sky is the limit.
“We saw what happens when we will commit and sell out to team basketball, playing for each other, playing our guts out, getting on the floor,” Cook said. “And we saw what happens when we don’t do that.”
A slow first quarter by both squads led to a 10-9 Bethesda lead after one.
But that all changed as the tempo increased after Fall Creek Academy’s James Caldwell hit back-to-back 3–pointers to begin the second quarter. Bethesda’s Malik Roper hit the Patriots’ first shot at the 5:37 mark of the period, just under five minutes from the team’s last basket.
Roper was the only Patriot to score in that quarter besides a late 3-pointer from Patrick McCurry.
Fall Creek Academy’s full-court press and stifling 2-3 zone kept Bethesda unbalanced offensively, forcing the Patriots to search for shots.
The Engineers went on a tear in the second quarter, putting up 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting while going 3 of 5 from behind the arc.
Bethesda shot well when it got attempts off, going 4 of 7.
Also a problem all game for the Patriots was their play in the paint. The Engineers drove the lane, scoring at will and outrebounded Bethesda for the game, 32-15.
“We just didn’t go to war,” Cook said. “We came out soft like tender church boys and then we wonder why we don’t get rebounds. We don’t go to war in the paint. When we do we will be able to go somewhere.”
At the half, Cook and his staff got together and decided what the Patriots would do.
“We told them we were not making any adjustments,” Cook said.
The tough love helped propel Bethesda into an explosive 21-point third quarter effort. Roper led the way, connecting on two consecutive 3-pointers before the Engineers could respond.
McCurry then got into the action with two straight 3-pointers and Bethesda trailed 39-34.
“When we are able to dribble drive and kick the ball out, we are most effective,” Cook said. “I’ve been given in my first year some kids who can shoot the ball from behind the arc.”
At the end of the third, Fall Creek Academy led by eight, 49-41.
Roper went into the fourth with three fouls and very quickly exited the game after picking up his last two within the first 21 seconds of the final quarter. He finished the contest with a game-high 19 points and his shooting was definitely missed.
The departure of Roper was akin to air coming out of a balloon for Bethesda as the Engineers went on a 14-0 run.
“That’s probably my fault for not calling a timeout and pulling us together,” Cook said. “As a first-year coach you make mistakes like that and you live and learn.”
Fall Creek Academy led 63-41 and all seemed lost for the Patriots, but a combined 12 points from McCurry and Deonte Gates pulled Bethesda within 10 with under a minute to play. McCurry finished with 15 points and Gates added 12.
“I give the guys a lot of credit because when you take a punch to the gut like (their run), it’s hard to recover and they did, bringing themselves back with that unselfish brand of basketball that is contagious, fun to watch, produces winning teams and they were able to recapture that,” Cook said.
Although the Patriots now sit at 1-5 on the season, their game last night left them with something to build upon according to Cook.
“When this group fully dies to self and plays their guts out for each other, they will be able to go somewhere,” he said. “We keep telling them it’s not the size of the fingers that determines the strength of the fist, it’s the fist’s ability to lock together and never separate that will determine it’s strength. When we can become a fist, we will be able to do some things and we are battling to become a fist right now.”