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It's been a long time since the Bellmont Braves have exited the locker room after a game with a smile on their face but BHS cage coach Larry Patterson said he believes the Braves "match up well" with the Maconaquah Braves, a team Bellmont will face in the opening game of the class 3A sectional Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Bellmont gym.
In fact, Bellmont is pulling an 0-for-2011 in the win-loss column with its last win coming on December 28 with a 70-63 win over county rival Adams Central. The local Braves enter sectional play at 3-17 but were 3-3 after the victory over the Jets.
The 14-game losing streak began on January 4 as Bellmont visited South Adams, a team they were favored to defeat. South Adams had other ideas as Dustin Wanner poured in 28 points to lead the Stars to a 57-54 win and in the process hit 16-18 from the foul line making more free throws than Bellmont even attempted (SA was 28-36 while the Braves finished at 10-14).
That setback for Bellmont seemed to be the catalyst for the rest of January and February with Bellmont losing the next 13 by margins of between 11 to 31 points.
Suffice it to say that no one is more frustrated with that streak than is Patterson. In his fourth year at the helm of the Bellmont basketball program, Patterson has witnessed numerous games this year in which the opponents have jumped out to early double-digit leads in the first period.
The last two losses were tough for the Braves against Concordia, the eighth-ranked team in class 3A and then last Saturday against Jay. In each game, the Braves played well in spurts. Versus Concordia, they led until midway in the second period before allowing the Cadets a 23-0 run. Against Jay County, they cut a large lead to one but could never gain the lead and finally fell 61-43.
The other four teams in the Bellmont sectional are all legitimate sectional threats with Norwell, Peru, and Maconaquah all holding 14-6 records while Wayne is 10-11.
A new sectional champion for the tourney at Bellmont is guaranteed since the victor from last year, Elmhurst, was closed by the Fort Wayne Community Schools making this site a five-team affair.
Bellmont and Maconaquah will be the only game in town on Tuesday with action picking back up on Friday with Norwell and Wayne at 6 p.m. and Peru playing the Bellmont-Maconaquah survivor at 7:45 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Norwell may have been considered an early favorite but ended the season with a 51-35 setback to Jay County and 40-29 loss to Huntington North. This coming from a team that in its three previous wins had scored 101, 64, and 70 points. When the Knights whipped on Bellmont 67-36 in January, they were 9-1. Since that time, however, they are only 5-5.
Peru had its fans chomping with state championship ideas early in the season as the Tigers roared out to an early 8-0 record but they have been just 6-6 since the first of the year. One of those wins, however, was a 42-35 decision back in mid-January over Maconaquah, the only team in the Bellmont sectional they have played this year.
Maconaquah also started the season strong with victories in eight of their first nine games but are 6-5 in their last 11. The Braves' schedule may be a little weaker than the one Bellmont faces, however, with Maconaquah playing only one 4A school. They also have nine 2A opponents and three 1A foes on their schedule. Bellmont battled seven 4A schools this year, eight 3A foes, and four 2A schools. Ironically, all three of their wins were against 2A teams in the ACAC—Woodlan, Garrett, and Adams Central.
Maconaquah "is a vastly improved team over last year," according to Patterson but he still feels the Braves will not be overpowered in the game. The Miami County team has a little bit of size going 6'7, 6'4 on the front line.
The team that could be the surprise in the tournament is Wayne. The Generals were on a four game win streak prior to their 57-55 loss to New Haven last week and two of those wins were over highly-ranked teams, Whitko in class 3A and Canterbury in class 1A by 23 and 10 points respectively.
Wayne features perhaps the best guard in the sectional in Xavielle Brown. He scored a career high 40 points in the Generals' win over Canterbury and is capable to dominating play at both ends of the floor. Wayne opened the season with a 59-46 win over Bellmont but fell to with a five-game losing skein in December. They are 8-5 since playing in the SAC tourney over the holidays.
Bellmont enters the tournament led in scoring by senior guard Joe Baker with 204 points. Only four others have scored over 100 points this year including Nick Fuelling at 133, Payton Selking and Kyle Lehrman at 102, and Matt Chronister with 101. Logan Smith and Fuelling are the top two rebounders for the Braves with 100 and 91 respectively while Selking leads the team in assists and steals with 47 and 23.
As would be expected for a team with a 3-17 record, the team shooting stats for the Braves are below their opponents.
Bellmont has been outscored by a 56.8 to 45.9 average this year. Their two-point shooting stands at 36.2 percent while three-point attempts have slipped in recent games to 24.3 percent. The Braves have also struggled at times this year from the foul line hitting 169-281 for 60.1 percent while their foes have made more free throws (334) than what Bellmont has even attempted.
Fourth period scoring has been the best for the Braves this year with 256 points in 20 games but it has also been that way for their opponents who have 304 markers. For the season, Bellmont has been outscored 1,135 to 917.