By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
BRANDT — If you only find out who you truly are when things go wrong, now is the young and inexperienced Bethel boy’s basketball team’s chance.
Because for the first time this new season, things went wrong.
In a matchup of two undefeated teams early in the year, the Bees simply couldn’t get anything going against Graham’s defense and struggled to stop the Falcons’ balanced offense falling behind late in the first quarter and never recovering in a 68-52 loss Tuesday night at Bethel High School.
“It was not our day,” Bethel coach Brett Kopp said. “I think they opened our eyes a little bit. Graham is good, and we’re not as tough as we need to be physically and mentally. We’ve got to mature, and we’ve got to mature now.”
The young Bees, who had been playing with a chip on their shoulder early in the season in their hard-fought wins over quality teams, fell to 3-1, while Graham improved to 5-0 on the year. The Falcons have not been held below 60 points this season, and Bethel’s 52 was the most an opponent has scored against them yet.
That said, Bethel did not look as sharp as it had in its other games where the team felt it had something to prove after feeling overlooked due to the graduation of a number of long-time stars in the offseason.
“I don’t know if it was overconfidence, but I think it was complacency,” Kopp said. “We’ve got three kids that have played serious varsity minutes before this year. Our leadership is going to be tested because of this. How are the going to react? Early on, they gathered around each other and found ways to win basketball games. I think we’ve got the leadership on this team, but it is being tested right now.
“I told them that we’re going to have to look ourselves in the mirror and makes some changes. We’re going to play harder than that. I was not happy with our effort, and it’s going to change. But I love the kids we’ve got, and I think they’ll bounce back from this.”
Bethel battled early in the game, with lead lead changing hands five times in the first quarter. Kendal James hit a jumper along the baseline to give the Bees a 13-12 lead near the end of the quarter, but that was the last time Bethel led in the game as Chase Adams hit one of the Falcons’ three 3s in the quarter to put Graham up, and Brady King converted a three-point play in transition to put Bethel down 18-13 after one. The Falcons then continued to pull away in the second, hitting two baskets for every Bethel score as the Bees could not get any stops on the defensive end, and the Falcons led 39-26 at halftime.
“I’ll tell you what, for Graham to institute a true motion offense and to run it the way they do in five games, that’s incredibly impressive,” Kopp said. “It’s a tough, tough guard, and they ran it well. And they’ve got big kids, they’ve got physical kids and they’ve got disciplined kids that hit timely shots and free throws. That’s what it took.”
That trend continued in the third, with Bethel not scoring until the 4:10 mark of the quarter. And with James — who had 17 of the Bees’ 28 points at that point — picking up two quick fouls to give him four and force him to sit with roughly two minutes left in the quarter, Graham got another three-point play from King at the buzzer to make the lead 51-32 heading into the fourth.
And with slightly more than five minutes to play in the game, James was hit with one final foul to foul out and Adams sank both free throws to put the Falcons up 57-39, and while Jared Evans responded — scoring seven points, including a three-point play, down the stretch to keep the Bees competitive — they simply could not catch up.
James finished with 17 points and three assists and Evans had 15 points and six rebounds to lead Bethel. Nick Schmidt added eight points, Ethan Rimkus had five points and six rebounds, Cade Young had four points and Micah Mutlu had three points.
King led the Falcons with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven as five Graham players hit double figures. Brevan King had 15 points and nine rebounds, Kevin Miller had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, Adams had 10 points and six rebounds as the Falcons outrebounded Bethel 38-22 in the game while shooting 23 for 47 (48.9 percent) from the field. Zack Vanscoy added 10 points and Eli Palmer had two points.
Bethel, the two-time defending Cross County Conference champion, hosts league rival Mississinawa Valley Friday before traveling to Anna Saturday for another tough non-league test.
“It’s easy to come work when things are going well. Can you come work when they’re not going so well?” Kopp said. “We’ve got to learn from this, and that’s on me. We’ll work these next two days to get better and try to win another league game Friday.”
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.