FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayetteville Rockets entered their game Saturday night as winners of six of their last seven games. Their opponent, the Eastern Warriors, had won five of their last six. Something had to give when the two squads met on the hardwood for a Southern Hills Athletic Conference match.
Thanks to a game-high 23 points from Charles Bellamy, the Warriors left Fayetteville with a road victory in blowout fashion, defeating the Rockets 66-47.
It appeared early on that the game would go down to the wire. Eastern held a slim 15-14 lead after the first quarter. However, the Warriors’ defense stepped up in the second quarter, limiting Fayetteville’s chances and holding the Rockets to eight points, allowing Eastern to take a 30-22 lead into halftime.
Fayetteville head coach Darryl Iles said a lapse in concentration midway through the quarter is what allowed Eastern to pull ahead.
“We just lost our focus in the middle of the second quarter,” Iles said. “Right at the end of the second quarter, there was a play where I thought we had the ball and they scored three points. That’s a five point swing. We just didn’t really recover from that as a team.”
The third quarter saw Eastern build on their lead thanks to an 8-0 run that spanned just over a minute of gametime. Fayetteville had cut the lead down to five points at the time, but the quick burst by the Warriors put game out of reach. Fayetteville managed 15 points in the fourth quarter, but gave up 18.
Iles said his team simply didn’t play very well, despite knowing the physicality of the game they were about to play.
“We just didn’t play well,” Iles said. “We didn’t execute and we didn’t share the basketball. Things didn’t go our way. They played real physical, we knew they would. We knew they’d come out and play the defenses they did. I don’t think our boys were focused and didn’t do very well executing the gameplan.”
On the other side, Eastern head coach Rob Beucler said his team played well in the second half after struggling early.
“The kids played well,” Beucler said. “They stepped up and did their job defensively. Early we struggled finding people but they did a pretty nice job in the second half being patient offensively. They hit shots, made free throws and rebounded well.”
Beucler also noted two main reasons why his team was able to improve on their performance from the first half.
“One, we were more patient,” Beucler said. “Two, our defense got better. We gave them two or three easy shots where our defense didn’t rotate, didn’t guard very well. We shot the ball better in the second half. Our defense extended a little bit, we ran some half court then fell back into something where we could find the shooters.”
Bellamy led all scorers with 23 points. Mickey Hundley chipped in 17 points and led the team with six rebounds. Nick Kelch added 13 for the Warriors. Beucler made mention of several players who were crucial to his team’s success against the Rockets.
“He’s played well the last two or three games,” Beucler said. “In the second half last night, he had 17. Tonight he had 23. He rebounded and defended. He’s a good athlete. Mickey Hundley stepped up and had a good game rebounding. The kids are all buying in. Nick Kelch had a good half for us. Blake [Rigdon] was a floor general, took care of the ball for us and got some deflections. He hit a few easy pull-ups and made plays. That’s what you have to do.”
Max Lanham and Max Iles each scored 14 points for the Rockets, who were out-rebounded by the Warriors 24-16. Iles said his team failed to match the intensity of Eastern.
“They just were real physical,” Iles said. “I told them we had to match their intensity and we just didn’t. I think that’s the key. They just really wanted the game and we were just in slow motion tonight.”
The Rockets return to the court on Friday, Feb. 12 for a road contest in Manchester. Iles said his team has to execute better if they want to return to their winning ways.
“We have to get better,” Iles said. “We have to execute, play as a team and do what you’ve been instructed to do and everything will be fine. If you don’t do that, you’ll have nights that were rough, like tonight.”
Eastern returns to action on Tuesday, Feb. 9 in Hillsboro. Both squads will learn their sectional tournament draws tomorrow afternoon around 3 p.m.