With two easy wins in the book, the Belton Tigers needed a true test in their path into their tournament schedule
The Temple Wildcats fit that bill and then some.
An already great rivalry got added another chapter on Saturday night at UMHB’s Mayborn Campus Center, as the teams battled during the middle game of a basketball tripleheader that featured Copperas Cove-Cedar Park before and UMHB-Texas Lutheran after it.
The Tigers used pressure late to forge an 8-0 and upend the Wildcats, 68-62.
Belton (3-0) struggled early, despite winning the tip. After Kiron Griffin, Jr. hit one of two free throws 28 seconds in, Gavin Thomas hit a three-pointer and had an offensive putback for a basket to give the Wildcats a 5-1 lead.
Jordan Ellis popped in a three-pointer to pull the Tigers to within a point. Nick Ramirez drained a pair of free throws to extend the lead back out to three points.
Jarian Kerley’s first three-pointer of the night ignited a 6-2 run and Belton went up 10-7.
Lathyn Castelleja and Dion Washington hit back-to-back baskets to put the Wildcats back up 11-10.
Both teams sank baskets towards the close of the quarter, as the scoreboard reflected a 17-17 stalemate after the first eight minutes.
The second quarter was as interesting as the first quarter, with lead changes and good defense.
Griffin had a steal and a coast-to-coast basket to open the scoring. After Ramirez and Parker combined for three points,
Eddings drained a three-pointer from the left elbow of the arc to give the Tigers a 22-20 lead.
Castilleja drained a 12-footer to tie the game and Eddings answered with a steal and score. Thomas tied the game again with a bucket in the paint. Lott answered with a free throw and Griffin added with a baseline drive to give the Tigers a three-point lead.
Elcid Smith drained a three-pointer from deep to re-tie the game at 27-27. Mario Lockett hit a jumper with 1:20 to play in the half and Griffin fed Eddings breaking into the lane for the Tigers’ final tally of the half. Castilleja was fouled at the horn and sank one of the two foul shots for the Wildcats.
Belton led Temple (0-3), 31-28, at the half.
Ramirez fed Jayden Barrow on pass into traffic and he sank the shot to give Temple their first points 27 seconds into the third quarter.
Eddings read the traffic perfectly a minute later and fed Kerley a step inside the three-point arc to give the Tigers a 34-30 lead.
Thomas and Griffin traded baskets to give the four-point margin in tact before Eddings and Kayden Downs weighed in with 12-foot jumpers to push the lead to seven, 42-35.
A solid steal by Kyle O’Banon set up two Kerley three-pointers, the second from 30-feet away, to give the Tigers their biggest lead of the night at nine points. Austin Weldin took a pass from Jaiden Pate and banked a shot in for the final points of the quarter. Belton led 50-43 going into the fourth quarter.
The frenetic pace of the game kept the both sides of the arena on the edge of their seats.
Temple came out ablaze to start the fourth quarter, with Barrow, Thomas and Parker hammering consecutive field goals to fuel a 7-0 run to tie the game up at 50-50 with 7:05 to play.
Lott had a field goal and two converted free throws, which were answered by a three-point play by Barrow and a pair of free throws from Thomas.
Belton head coach Trovocie Jackson called a timeout to give the Tigers a breather with 4:57 to play and game plan the remainder of the contest.
Ramirez hit three free throws and Parker added one to give the Wildcats a 59-54 advantage. Lott hit four straight free throws to pull the Tigers to within a point and Ellis sank two to give Belton a 60-59 lead with 2:41 to play.
Ramirez then sank a free three throw and then a layup with 2:04 to go, as Temple reclaimed a 62-60 lead.
The Tigers went on a press frenzy, forcing the Wildcats into inopportune turnovers. Kerley drew a foul with 1:44 to play and sank two free throws to tie the game at 62-62.
After a Temple turnover, Kerley took a pass in the lane, ducked two attempted shot blockers, banked the ball off the glass and into the bucket to put the Tigers ahead, 64-62, with 1:16 to play.
A good read on defense led to Griffin snagging a Wildcat pass and the senior went coast-to-coast for a layup with 54.5 seconds to go. Ellis added his own theft and cash in with 30 seconds to play to wrap up the scoring, 68-62.
Kerley finished with 17 points, Griffin added 15 and Dontori Lott 11. Belton, who was just three-of-nine from the charity stripe in the first half, finished 14-of-21 for the game. They made 10-of-11 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Thomas led all scorers with 19 points for Temple.
“A game like this, we needed,” Jackson said. “Those other ones, we kind of dominated those from the tipoff. We needed a grit and grind and fight game to one, settle guys down and humble us some. We were flying pretty high there for a second and really believed that our stuff didn’t stink. But, dang, it feels good to be 3-0.”
Griffin felt communication between his teammates helped a great deal in the victory.
“I think it was just being experienced. We have a lot of returners this year, a lot of returning guards. So, experience,” Griffin said of the Tigers’ down-the-stretch output. “Not getting too overwhelmed and just keeping our composure, even when they went on that run. It was just communicating, talking to each other, keeping each other upheld and believing that we could do it.”