By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
Nate Betts sat on the bench waiting, but he wasn’t sweating, wasn’t nervous and wasn’t even worried.
“I know I can count on my teammates. I knew they would step up,’’ said Betts, who sat out most of the third quarter with four fouls Saturday in the boys title game of the Kiwanis Classic Basketball Tournament.
Betts sat calmly and knew the title was coming back to Kerens. Then he made sure of it, scoring eight of his game-high 26 points in the fourth to help Kerens pull away from a gutsy and talented Blooming Grove team to win its 12th title in a row with an emphatic 72-60 victory.
“Nate is phenomenal,’’ said Kerens Coach Don Enis, who thought about putting Betts back in the game in the third when the Lions were pushing Kerens to the wall. “I knew he could play with four fouls (in the fourth quarter). He’s done that before. He handles himself so well. He’s a smart player.”
Betts put on a show in the first eight minutes, firing from all over the court and drilling in 12 of Kerens’ 17 first-quarter points.
“My adrenaline was pumping,” said Betts of his fast start. “Everybody thought we were going to lose. We wanted it bad. We wanted to make a statement. We knew we had to go get it. We knew it wasn’t going to just come to us.‘’
In the end, Enis, Betts and all the Kerens fans counted on the role players, the kids who make Kerens what it is -- a year-in-year-out powerhouse -- to hold off the Lions, who gave Kerens all it wanted and more, swapping leads eight times in the third and taking a 46-46 tie into the fourth.
“I’m really super proud of the resiliency of these kids,’’ Enis said. “They never quit.’’
DaQuaylon Bevins, who hit back-to-back 3s in the third when the lead was jumping from one end of the court to the other, broke the tie with a fast break drive to start the fourth and Dontarius Bryant made a steal and a coast-to-coast drive to lift Kerens to a 50-46 lead, and the Bobcats (10-4) never trailed again.
Blooming Grove roared back to knot things at 54-54 when Juanya Pyburn, who finished with 20 points, including eight in the fourth, hit a putback and it was Pyburn who closed things at 57-56 with a drive, and it was Pyburn who almost gave the Lions the lead. He drove through traffic and hit a drive with 2:50 that would have given Blooming Grove a 58-57 lead but the basket was wiped out with a charging call.
Twenty seconds later Shelton Sayles hit the biggest shot of the night, a rainbow 3 that flipped the momentum around once and for good. If there was a turning point in this game that was full of twists, turns and enough lead changes to keep the crowd on its feet throughout the game, it came in that span of a few seconds.
“That shot by Shelton was very big for us,’’ Enis said. “He’s been here four years and he really stepped up tonight.’’
That 3 sparked the Bobcats, who went on a 6-0 run while Blooming Grove, which made nine 3s in the game, missed back-to-back 3s at the other end, and Betts hit a drive and Bryant, who finished with 13 points, added a free throw with 1:27 left to make it a 64-56 game. After that it was free throws that iced it as Kerens went 6-for 6 from the line over the final 1:12 with Braynt hitting a pair and Betts going 4-for-4 in the final minute to lift Kerens to a 70-60 lead with 14 seconds left.
“It’s all about staying calm and converting,’’ Betts said of the close game. “You can’t get nervous. All I was thinking about (all night) was staying calm and converting.’’
Blooming Grove (12-2) has lost twice all year -- a one-point loss to Rice on a tip-in at the buzzer and Saturday.
“Kerens has been here and won it 12 years in a row,” Blooming Grove Coach Ben Kinnison said, “They were ready. We grew up a lot tonight. My seniors got this experience of a game like this and my younger players experienced a game like this that will be a very good building block for us.”
Blooming Grove had big nights from Daniel Pelzel, who nailed four 3s and finished with 15 points, Rowdy Barlow, who scored 11 and Tyler Lewis, who hit a pair of 3s and finished with eight points.
“That’s a great team. They were 12-1 for a reason, and they’re the best shooting team we’ve seen all year,’’ Enis said of the Lions. “This sets the tone for the rest of the season.’’
It was a classic title game that came down to the end and a number of players stepping up to make the difference, but Enis, who admitted it must have been exciting for the fans at Navarro College, had his point of view.
“It was exciting, but not from the seat I was sitting in,” he said. Then he smiled.
So did the Kerens fans and players.