The Belton Tigers continue to believe in controlling what they can control.
Friday was a litmus test, as they took on a tough Copperas Cove Bulldawgs squad at the Dawg House.
Since their 22-1 start, the Dawgs had fallen on hard times. They went into Friday’s game 1-11 n District 8-6A play and have been forced into a spoiler role, hosting the Tigers that were in a four-way tie for third place at 6-6 in district.
Kiron Griffin, Jr. had a game-high 30 points and Dontori Lott added 18 points, as the Tigers pulled a step closer to their first potential playoff appearance since 2004 with an 81-73 win over the Dawgs.
Jacob Carter got the Dawgs on the board first with a three-pointer 56 seconds into the contest. Elijah Eddings had a steal and basket to put the Tigers on the board with 6:33 to play in the opening quarter. Griffin and Lott combined for the next six points for an 8-0 run and Belton led 8-3 with 4:31 to play in the quarter.
The Tigers (18-12, 7-6 District 8-6) doubled the lead to 10 points over the next 2:55, as Jarian Kerley and Kayden Downs joined the scoring to make the score 17-7.
Cove rallied for an 8-0 run over the final 1:30 to close the gap to two points at the end of the quarter, 17-15.
The Tigers and Cove stayed within four points of each other most of the second quarter, with three lead changes. With Cove in the lead 34-33, the Tigers got consecutive three-pointers from Kerley and Griffin to give Belton a five-point lead. Justus Honea hit a three-pointer for Cove’s final points of the first half, as Belton led 39-37 at halftime.
Belton opened up the second half with an 10-5 run over the first 3:42, with Griffin, Lott and Kerley combining to give the Tigers a 47-40 advantage.
Cove scratched away at the Tigers’ lead and whittled it down two points with 20.5 remaining in the quarter, 53-51. Kyle O’Banon’s three-pointer with five seconds left gave the Tigers a 56-51 advantage going into the final eight minutes.
Deandre McKinnis’ three-pointer 20 seconds into the fourth quarter brought Cove back to within two points.
The Tigers continued to drain shots all over the place, as Griffin and Eddings hit three-pointers, Jordan Ellis hit a pair of shots while driving into the lane, and Kerley contributed on a drive in the paint. Belton outscored Cove 25-22 in the final quarter, as neither the Tigers nor the Dawgs had quit in them.
Tyrese Taylor had 15 points to lead the Dawgs.
Belton head coach Trovocie Jackson was pleased with the team’s performance, but was hoping to see a bit more focus.
“Our focus was all over the place,” Jackson said. “We couldn’t get them to just lock in for the full 32 minutes. We’ve been stressing playoff focus and playoff effort. I got the playoff effort, but not the playoff focus. I definitely am excited to come into Cove and get a win.”
Griffin had his biggest scoring night of the season, with turning up his scoring touch. Had it not been for a couple of field goals and free throws that rimmed out, Jackson felt that Griffin could have gone for more. He felt that Lott and Kerley played exceptional as well.
“We’ve been stressing the little bitty small things,” Jackson said. “We stressed our shooting and we shot the ball really well tonight. We’ve been extremely detailed and nit-picky with the smallest of things. They tried to correct them tonight and got them fixed. If KJ makes his layups and free throws, he goes for 40 or 45.”
Harker Heights comes into Tiger Gym on Tuesday night. Head coach Celneque Bobbitt always has his Knights playing at full speed and Jackson has made his team fully aware of the ramifications of the game.
“It’s going to be tough,” Jackson said. “I’m anticipating the toughest game that we will play all season with so much on the line. Their playoff hopes are on the line, as well, and every game means something. I’m expecting a battle, but we’re up to the challenge.”
The Tigers have endured great success at home this season and the past several games have generated so much energy and excitement. Jackson and the Tigers would love to see a packed Tiger Gym on Tuesday night.
“The energy that has come from these past couple of home games have been incredible,” Jackson said. “We have a change to do something that hasn’t been done in a very long time. So I am anticipating that people are going to pack the house. We have the ‘Tigers Against Hunger’ event happening as well. It’s a ‘we win, we’re in’ situation and there’s a lot on the line. I just pray that the community comes out and fully supports us.”