Exiting halftime with a one-point lead, Belton utilized a full-court press Tuesday to break the deadlock with Pleasant Hill.
The Pirates outscored the Roosters 20-6 during third quarter thanks to the defensive pressure and offensive patience before rolling to a 66-47 win at home.
“We started picking up full-court man,” Belton head coach Brady Hammond, “and picking up the intensity a little bit got us playing a little more our style. But I thought Pleasant Hill battled and, luckily, we were able to regroup and pick it up in the second half, and we were able to get more inside looks.”
Senior Jaden Clark led the way for the Pirates (3-3), getting to the paint as well as hitting outside shots for nine of this game-high 19 points during the third frame.
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“I thought we’ve already had two games similar to this,” Pleasant Hill coach Ryan Messinger said. “We played Ray-Pec. I think it was a three-point game at halftime first game of the year, and they came almost exactly like tonight and came out and scored a quick six or seven points, and we were never able to recover. We’re young. We’re inexperienced.”
Inexperience is an issue for both the Pirates and Roosters (1-4), but the seasoned players Belton does have led the charge.
All three returning players from last season entered the game averaging doubles figures for Belton, which got 14 points apiece from Sabir Brown and T.J. Brown. Both are among the Pirates’ returners along with Clark.
“Those are the only three guys that have any varsity experience for us whatsoever,” Hammond said, “so I expect them to be leaders out there, both with their performance and with their leadership. And they do a good job of that.”
The trio accounted for 28 of the Belton’s 35 second-half points.
Pleasant Hill returns Mazen Jackson and Cole Ederer, who scored 13 points, as the only players with significant playing time, while senior John Hays joined the starting lineup and added 10 points.
“They’re both capable of shooting the ball, “Messinger said of Ederer and Hays. “Cole didn’t shoot the ball well. This is the first game he’s been off. I don’t know how many he ended up with, but he left a lot of points off the board that he’s capable of finishing, but obviously, as we go on, he’s going to get more and more attention.”
The Pirates’ press forced several Roosters turnovers out of the gate, but the outside shooting from Hays and junior Blake Atkins kept Pleasant Hill within reach. Hays knocked down a 3 that made it 31-30 at halftime with Belton deploying less pressure during the second quarter.
That changed after intermission and the Roosters had trouble handling it.
“It just got us sped up,” Messinger said. “I don’t think we turned it over, but sometimes some of those quick shots, if you don’t make them, can feel like turnovers.”
On the other end, Clark scored five straight for Belton and T.J. Brown added a layup quickly followed by a 3 for a 41-32 lead less than three minutes into the second half.
Integrating junior guards Cardan Smith and Antione Nunn Jr. into the starting line-up, the Pirates dropped their first two games at the Republic tournament, but now have won three of their last four with additional wins against Fort Osage and Siloam Springs (Ark.).
“Cardan, our new point guard, he’s been playing really well, a good ball-handler,” Hammond said. “He’s smart with the ball. His assist-to-turnover ratio is really good. That’s what we want him to do on the offensive end, and he plays very good defense. Antione Nunn, he’s just a kid who gets after it. He’s one of our better defenders.”
Pleasant Hill also lost its first two games — against Ray-Pec and DeSoto — before beating Bishop Ward during tournament play at De Soto.
Next, the Roosters lost to Piper in similar fashion to the Belton loss, with a close game at halftime turning into a rout.
Pleasant Hill played a 2-3 zone for the majority of the Belton game, something new for Messinger.
“I’ve typically been a man-to-man coach,” he said. “We’ve trapped at different times and done some different zones and things in the 12 years I’ve been there, but that’s new. It’s a new thing we’ve done this year. I knew it was something we were going to kind of develop and get used to.”
Up next, the Roosters head to Warrensburg at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and the Pirates face Ray-Pec on the road at 7 p.m. Friday.