BELTON — In overtime, Belton shined.
After scoring the first 14 points of the game and holding an early 17-point lead, the Tigers almost let it all slip away as Copperas Cove rallied to tie the game 56-56 at the end of regulation.
Belton responded by making 5 of 6 field goals and 5 of 6 free throws in overtime to earn a 72-66 victory and keep its unblemished District 8-5A record intact.
“We have a great shooting team, and when you put them on the line, where you don’t have anybody contesting their shot, we just make all our free throws,” Belton coach Charlie Lewis said. “This is something we’ve been talking about — mental toughness — and this is where we need to be as a program.”
The outcome, however, could have easily been reversed.
While Belton (7-8, 2-0) never trailed, the Bulldawgs managed to tie the game five times with the first deadlock occurring at 48-48 with 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
With the game tied 56-56, the Bulldawgs (12-4, 1-1) held the ball for the final 1:35 of regulation before senior Deion Robinson missed a potential game-winner as time expired, sending the contest into overtime. Once there, Daniel Mills recorded eight of his game-high 29 points, including a pair of free throws and a jumper to push the Tigers’ lead to 67-63 with a little more than a minute remaining.
Andre Ewing added a free throw to extend Belton’s advantage to five points, 68-63, before Copperas Cove senior Cory Scott made his sixth 3-pointer to pull the Bulldawgs within two. They did not score again.
“We made our free throws (late) and played great defense,” said Mills, who added 10 rebounds and two blocks. “That is what is going to win us games in district — defense.”
Outside of Scott’s pair of 3-pointers, the Bulldawgs were 1 of 7 from the field in overtime after surviving a 3-of-15 shooting performance in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t hit shots when we needed to hits shots,” Copperas Cove coach Billy White Jr. said. “They were able to come out and get a big lead, and anytime you spot somebody that many points early, its tough to climb out of that. But Belton fought hard to the end, and that is something I’ve got to tip my hat to them on.”
The Bulldawgs missed 11 of their first 16 shots, including 8-of-10 3-pointers, allowing Belton to run out to a 14-0 lead that grew to 24-7 before the end of the first quarter. But Copperas Cove pulled to within 30-28 on a pair of Scott free throws two minutes before halftime.
For every Bulldawgs run, however, Belton produced a response.
The Tigers pushed their lead to 39-30 early in the third quarter before Cedric Carlisle made a 3-pointer to tie the game for the first time. Despite falling into two four-point deficits, Copperas Cove answered each time with Tyler Wilson producing the game-tying jumper with two minutes remaining, but Belton made critical stops to force overtime.
In overtime, Belton junior Braden Hammond scored five of his 22 points, including a 3-pointer to snap a 58-58 tie with 2:48 remaining. Scott made 6 of 17 3-point attempts to score a team-high 24 points, but only one other Bulldawg finished with more than seven points.
Copperas Cove was outscored 16-10 in overtime, but White said his team lost the game in the first quarter.
“They outplayed us in those first few minutes (of the game) and in the first quarter,” he said, “and that was the difference in the game.”