BELTON — It could have been the cold and the rain outside that never ceased Wednesday. Or it could have been that both Belton basketball teams just weren’t quite ready to abandon the holiday vacation mindset. Whatever the case, it was clear that neither the Tigers nor Lady Tigers were 100 percent prepared for their first District 12-6A games of the new year.
In the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader at Tiger Gym, the Lady Tigers held on to their sizeable first-half lead and defeated the Waco Lady Lions 35-26. The Tigers weren’t as fortunate as they fell behind early and never recovered in a 73-52 loss to the Lions.
First-year Belton coach Jason Fossett has stated on several occasions that the youth of his program is a positive and — at times — a negative. The Tigers (9-14, 1-4) fell prey to the Lions’ defensive pressure and turned over the ball early and often in the first half, leading to Waco’s 13-4 lead after the first quarter. The Lions (15-7, 2-3) continued to pour it on in the second quarter, shooting 8-of-17 and making three of six shots from 3-point range for a 36-16 halftime lead.
“It got away from us early. We didn’t shoot the ball well, take care of the ball and we just played tentative, scared or whatever you want to call it in the first half and dug ourselves a huge hole,” said Fossett, who’s team shot 14-of-54 (26 percent) from the field and was just 3-of-22 from beyond the 3-point arc. “As young as we are, when things started snowballing out of control, it was hard to stop and next thing you know you’re down 20 or more.”
The Tigers found offensive life after halftime and hit more shots in the third than they did during the entire first half. Belton used a 13-5 run to cut Waco’s 20-point lead to 47-35 with less than 2 minutes to go in the third. The Tigers made six of 13 shots and went 7-of-8 from the foul line in the third to trail 50-37 going into the fourth quarter.
Reid Pulliam led Belton with 12 points, 10 of which came in the third quarter. T.J. Johnson finished with 11 points and Tyson Pine added eight.
“Sometimes you have to challenge your guys at halftime. ‘Are you going to have a little pride about yourself? Are you going to keep competing and doing the things we know we’re capable of?’ I thought in the third and fourth quarter we did a better job of hanging with Waco,” Fossett said.
Waco used a quick 7-0 burst at the start of the fourth to move back ahead by 20. The Lions continued to push the tempo, and the lead ballooned to 67-43.
“We’ve been working on our defense and competing at our highest level on that end of the court,” Waco coach Earl Farley said. “We did a good job today but we can always be better.”
Waco had nine players score, including three in double figures, as the Lions shot 45 percent (29-of-64) from the field. Remond O’Neal and Nate Brooks led Waco with 13 points each and Dale Smith scored 12.
After outscoring Waco 13-5 in the first quarter and 9-0 in the second for a seemingly commanding 22-5 halftime lead, Belton (17-9, 5-2) made just five of 23 shots in the second half and watched the Lady Lions inch back into the game.
Waco used an 8-3 run to start the third, but Belton still led 31-16 entering the fourth. Despite Waco (5-14, 2-5) going 5-of-11 from the field over the final 8 minutes — compared to Belton’s 1-of-8 from the floor and 2-of-8 from the free throw line — the Lady Lions failed to come up with enough baskets, and the Lady Tigers got enough defensive stops in winning their fifth district game in seven opportunities.
Belton moved into a four-way tie for first place with Waco Midway, Copperas Cove and idle Harker Heights.
Natasha Blizzard scored eight of her team-high 10 points in the first quarter and was key in Belton’s early success. Presleigh York added nine points on 3-of-8 shooting from long range and Nia Williams chipped in six points, with five coming in the third.
Montierra Warren scored 17 of Waco’s 26 points and was most effective in the second half, scoring 15 after halftime and 11 in the third. YaKimi Sneed scored seven points and Vanessa Pierson added two.
WEDNESDAY'S 12-6A BOYS
- No. 16 Ellison 78, Killeen 49
- No. 18 Shoemaker 62, Copperas Cove 57
- Waco 73, Belton 52
- Waco Midway 59, Temple 30
WEDNESDAY'S 12-6A GIRLS
- Belton 35, Waco 26
- Copperas Cove 73, Shoemaker 32
- Killeen 55, Ellison 37
- Waco Midway 59, Temple 50