BY AARON PATTERSON
Even in its lowest points, Bismarck-Henning boys basketball coach Jon Clapp believes without question the Blue Devils are one of the best teams in Vermilion County. With that, they had expectations of playing in Saturday’s Vermilion County Tournament championship. But it didn’t happen.
Bismarck-Henning suffered a disappointing 43-39 overtime loss to Westville on Thursday in a game that would have sent the Blue Devils to the title game. It was disappointing in that they held a 31-21 advantage with five minutes remaining, and watched it slowly slip away while Westville went on a 13-3 run to eventually send the game to overtime.
While turnovers and missed free throws might have hurt the Blue Devils then, they did everything possible to execute on Saturday in their 56-42 win over Oakwood to secure a third-place finish.
“That loss killed us in every way,” Bismarck-Henning senior guard Austin Toler said. “We thought we were going to win it in the last five minutes.
“We just made sure we played defense and ran our plays (against Oakwood). We knew we beat them twice, but it’s hard to beat someone three times. We played our offense and our keys, and we locked down No. 25, (Kyle) Elliott. That’s all we had to do.”
Locking down Elliott proved crucial as the 6-foot-4 Oakwood senior scored a team-high 17 points with 14 coming in the first half as the Comets came from behind to lead 27-25 at the break.
Nine of his points came from behind the three-point arc. But Elliott attempted only four shots total in the second half.
Bismarck-Henning (17-4) held a 24-18 lead with two minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the first half, but Oakwood ended the half on a 9-1 run.
“We were definitely optimistic,” Oakwood coach Doug Robinson said. “The game was going in our momentum, and Bismarck was playing the way that we wanted them to play. We just weren’t able to capitalize on their mistakes. They went on a little run. We got back in it and took the lead at halftime. I think that little run that we made toward the end of the second quarter really motivated them.”
Just as quickly as the Comets (4-12) made their comeback, though, the Blue Devils began the second half with a 9-0 run of their own to go up 34-27. And even though Oakwood was keeping pace, Bismarck-Henning finished the game outscoring the Comets 13-4 in the final 6:05. Seven of the 13 points were scored at the free throw line when Oakwood began fouling with just over two minutes to play.
Andy Bott scored 15 points for the Blue Devils with eight coming at the free throw line. The junior guard was a perfect six-for-six during the stretch.
Toler scored a game-high 18 points and had four steals, Wilde Garowski finished with nine points and 10 rebounds, and Chase Connelly scored seven points and had four rebounds.
In the previous two meetings, the Blue Devils won both contests 61-49 and 64-42. The Comets have been gaining confidence over the last couple weeks, and others are starting to take notice.
“I think it’s always tough to beat a team for the third time,” Clapp said. “They know exactly what you run, they take things away, and to Oakwood’s credit in this tournament, they’ve been playing some pretty good ball lately. I’ve been impressed with their improvement.”
While the Comets ended the tournament with back-to-back losses, they have made it clear that their recent improvement is only helping them gain confidence.
“I think it is another step in our progress,” Robinson said. “Each game, I tell them, they’ve got to come out and not overlook anybody no matter what records are. They’re starting to see that, and they’re starting to come out playing hard. That third quarter got away from us tonight. It was tough to rebound for us.
“They fought hard, though,” he continued. “I’m proud of the effort overall. That’s a tough team. They’ve played well against us in the past. I think since I’ve been here, that’s the best that we’ve played against them. So I am pleased with the effort.”
The Comets are next scheduled to face Armstrong-Potomac on Tuesday while Bismarck-Henning travels to Chrisman to take on the Cardinals.