BELTON — The Belton boys basketball team was still searching for a winning recipe in District 8-6A heading into its game against San Angelo Central.
The Tigers discovered the correct ingredients Tuesday night.
Belton (9-14, 1-3) marched out to an early double-digit lead and stayed poised through a late fourth-quarter rally by Central to snag a 60-55 victory in Tiger Gym. The Tigers were sitting in the district’s cellar as the only winless team in the league entering Tuesday.
Belton dug itself into a 27-9 hole against Waco Midway last Friday, but it opened with a fast start in this contest, jumping out to a 16-5 advantage at 3:37 in the first and holding a 22-10 lead at the end of the quarter.
“As hard as we work and with the amount of preparation that we put into everything, we expect to win basketball games,” Belton coach Trovocie Jackson said. “This isn’t the first one that we expected to win. We expected to win all those others as well. We’ve just been so close but haven’t been able to close things out. Tonight, that early start was big. Against Midway we didn’t (start fast) and it hurt us bad.
“I’m extremely proud of these young. We’ve encountered a lot of different obstacles throughout this year. They’ve kept fighting. To see the smiles on their faces is what makes me the happiest. This won’t be the last game we win.”
After trailing 45-35 heading into the fourth, Central (12-9, 1-3) clawed back and closed the gap to 49-43 with a Ryan Clark 3-pointer. Clark hit another 3 at 4:46 to make it 49-46, and Durriell Taylor’s putback cut the deficit to 50-48 with less than four minutes left. But the Bobcats couldn’t tie it.
Senior Carson Hammond, who led the Tigers with 16 points, made a layup after a steal to give Belton a 54-48 lead, and Jordan Ellis recorded his first and only field goal when he drove to the basket for a layup and a 56-50 advantage with 1:51 remaining.
Hammond knocked down two free throws to ice the game at 59-52.
“Beautiful,” Jackson said of Ellis’ move to the basket. “Whenever (Ellis) is confident, he’s tough to handle. We want to continue to get him as much confidence as possible because we need him. I’m so excited for him.”
Belton never trailed and had four players score in double figures. Dontori Lott tallied 14, Jarian Kerley 12 and Kiron Griffin Jr. 10. Hammond tallied two of the Tigers’ three 3s.
“(Central) made it hard at the end to get it,” Hammond said. “They started knocking down shots. It was big on our home court to keep the momentum the whole game. We kept the pressure on them. This helps our confidence going forward.”
Central’s offense relied heavily on 3-pointers, as it made four in the fourth to quickly trim the deficit. The Bobcats, who trailed by double digits for most of the game, shot 9-of-21 from beyond the arc.
“Offensively, we’re settling for too many (3-pointers) right now,” Central coach Dustin Faught said. “I don’t think we’re putting enough pressure on people and wanting to attack first. If you’re on that night, you’ve got a chance. If you’re not, you don’t have much of one. Until we figure out that we’ve got to be a little bit aggressive, look on the interior, get paint touches, it’s going to continue to be that way.
“I think our kids battled the second half. But the first half, we came out and looked like we weren’t interested in being here. You have to give (Belton) a lot of credit. They beat us to every 50-50 ball. They killed us on the boards. They attacked the rim and owned the paint. When you come out and spot somebody a quarter and a half, you don’t deserve to win.”
Belton travels to Ellison on Friday.