BELTON — When defeats pile up instead of wins, a season can start to feel more and more like a burden. However, Temple senior Joseph Stewart said the Wildcats aren’t giving into that mindset in the least. In fact, Stewart believes he and his teammates are having more fun now, even with a steep uphill climb to the playoffs in front of them.
“In practice, we’ve just been enjoying the grind with each other. It’s not like where we are coming to practice and dreading it,” Stewart said. “We are coming to practice and happy to be with each other and practice. So, getting better is not hard anymore.”
Stewart, who missed Temple’s first encounter with rival Belton because of COVID-19 protocols, got a second chance to face the Tigers on Tuesday night and joined Jaylon Hall in the double-figures scoring department during the Wildcats’ 53-43 victory at Tiger Gym.
Temple (5-12, 2-7 District 12-6A) avenged a 53-31 loss to the Tigers (15-5, 6-3) on Dec. 22 while sending Belton to just its second home setback in nine games this season.
Jaylon Hall finished with 14 points, Stewart had 13, Jayden Hall chipped in eight and Leon Hudson had six for Temple.
“I’ve been showing the guys a lot of film and just trying to get them to understand you have to play basketball and quit worrying about what the crowd says — shoot it, jack it up and all that,” Temple head coach Michael Thomas said. “You have to play for the team and play disciplined basketball, and we did a good job tonight because Belton has a good team. I’m proud of the guys. They fought. And it’s my birthday, so they played hard for my birthday.”
The Wildcats rallied from an 11-point deficit in the second quarter to get within 24-21 by halftime then gift wrapped a standout second half for their coach, too.
Temple outscored Belton 15-5 in the third quarter to lead 36-29 entering the fourth, when the Wildcats went 9-of-10 at the free throw line — after not attempting any free throws through the first 30 minutes of the game — and never let Belton closer than five points.
The usually hot-shooting Tigers, who led 13-10 after the first quarter and were up 21-10 after netting the first eight points in the second period, never found their stroke. They made just two 3-pointers — one in each half by Ben Jones.
TJ Johnson managed a game-high 19 points on 8-of-23 shooting from the floor. Kayden Downs had eight points, and Jones and Trap Johnson had seven apiece as Belton went 16-of-57 from the field and 9-of-17 at the free throw line.
“We didn’t shoot the ball. It was pretty obvious. Senseless turnovers at times but for the most part, we just didn’t shoot the ball well at all,” Belton head coach Jason Fossett said. “I thought we got on a little run there in the second quarter and got ahead 21-10, and then you can’t shoot it much worse than we did from that point.”
Belton led from Downs’ opening free throw 10 seconds into the contest until there was 2:24 left in the third quarter, when Stewart’s corner 3-pointer lifted the Wildcats ahead 29-27. Aundra Jackson’s steal and layup made it 31-27, Hudson’s layup boosted it to 33-27 and Jayden Hall’s second 3 of the third brought Temple’s advantage to 36-27 and capped a 6-minute surge during which Belton had just one field goal.
“The biggest thing is when I say certain things and they start to unfold on the court, they say, ‘Dang, Coach, you said that was going to happen if you do this.’ Now they start believing a little bit more,” Thomas said. “So, that’s the biggest thing — just getting the kids to buy in a little bit more every day. We’ve been through a lot this year. We’re fortunate. I’ll take any win we can get.”
12-6A BOYS BASKETBALL
Harker Heights 7-2
Copperas Cove 4-5
- Bryan 67, Killeen 51
- No. 13 Ellison 79, Copperas Cove 48
- Harker Heights 77, Shoemaker 61
- Temple 53, Belton 43