By Ryan Palencer
CARMEL — Despite a combined 37 points for seniors Deonte Gates and Malik Roper, Bethesda Christian fell in a 54-51 thriller to host University in its sectional opener Friday night that came down to the final possession.
“I couldn’t be more pleased (with the effort),” Bethesda coach Justin Cook said. “They did every single thing that I asked ... In a game like that, with 70 possessions, we were one shot, one bounce, one foul, one ball rolling out. We want them to leave it all on the floor and they did.”
Both teams were lighting up the scoreboard early from long range. Gates and University’s Eric Wott each hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter and the Trailblazers (12-11) claimed a 16-15 advantage after the period.
However, the Patriots (4-17) turned the script and took a 29-25 lead into halftime.
The game was a close battle throughout, as Bethesda took the game’s largest lead of six halfway through the third quarter on a 3-pointer from Gates.
With just under two minutes remaining in the game, Anthony Maranto knocked down a 3-pointer to give University its first lead of the second half.
With less than 20 second left, Roper scored to cut the deficit to three and after a pair of missed free throws, he had one final shot to tie it. However, it came harmlessly off the rim and the Trailblazers escaped to take on the winner of the Indiana Math and Science and Tindley game in the sectional championship Saturday night.
In an episode of foreshadowing, the margin was the same as when the two teams met Dec. 7, when the Trailblazers defeated the visiting Patriots 65-62.
Cook has looked to the offensive effort of Roper and Gates all season long, and that was no different Friday night.
“Those two guys are so skilled and so athletic,” Cook said. “It is a tribute to their work ethic. The strides that they have made, even in the last month, as basketball players, but more importantly, as people, have put them in a great spot to move forward wherever God leads them.”
Along with Roper and Gates, Alex Vescovi and Aaron Hampton each chipped in five points, while Austin Forsythe scored four.
Dominic Dixon led the way for University with 19 points, while Wott scored 12.
The graduating class for the Patriots includes eight players from the roster, who Cook thinks have left a great example for the underclassmen to build on.
“You can’t measure what this group of seniors has meant to our program,” Cook said. “From starting during the offseason program, just shattering the expectations, to a season with some adversity and some interpersonal difficulties. Yet tonight, you see a core of 12 guys, fighting as one, for each other. I think the legacy is going to be fighting for each other. I’m so proud to be a part of a program that they have left that legacy.”