By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Some nights, when free throws are missed and victories are elusive, Jeff Hein probably wishes he had become an accountant instead of a basketball coach. Not that accountants don’t have problems and headaches – every job has its own issues – but their happiness and security doesn’t rely on the success of teenagers.
Here’s what Hein could count on: Bedford North Lawrence will play defense. Colten Leach will make a difference. The Stars would finally win. Those factors added up to a pressure-release, thank-goodness triumph. Closer to full strength, resembling the team that was envisioned, BNL ended its early-season skid with a breakthrough triumph.
Leach, coming back from a second knee surgery earlier than expected, made his first start and made an immeasurable impact as the Stars conquered Columbus East 50-34 in the Hoosier Hills Conference opener on Friday night. Colton Staggs scored 12 points and Kaedyn Bennett added 11 as BNL (1-3) avoided its worst start since the 0-5 getaway during the 2007-08 campaign. Those aren’t records anyone wants to break.
The deep exhales of relief were causing blusters inside BNL Fieldhouse. The Olympians (1-5) were not blown away easily. They erased a 10-point deficit, charged in front midway through the third quarter, and stayed within striking range while BNL missed eight consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter. That’s about the time Hein was questioning his career choice.
Victory was finally secured when the Stars hit their last eight from the line during the final 1:27. Whew.
“An ugly win is at lot better than a pretty loss any day,” Hein said. “We’ll take it. We needed one. It’s not that we played poorly the first three games, we just sputtered so bad offensively. We got a confidence boost.”
That boost was Leach, the junior guard who was BNL’s leading scorer last season. He had been cleared to practice full throttle this week, and his parents gave their blessing to limited minutes against East. Leach played about 15 minutes, scored 7 points despite some rust and basketball fatigue. But his presence was such a mental jolt for a team that desperately needed one.
“To be honest, Leach helped a lot, getting the ball out of my hands all the time,” Staggs said. “He takes pressure off me. We felt more comfortable out there.”
Nobody was happier than Leach. He made his first shot, connecting on a drive into traffic as the Stars bolted to a quick 11-2 lead. Staggs scored twice and Bennett added a corner trey during that electric start. Leach added a bucket off an inbound lob and a rebound basket while BNL rumbled in front at 17-7.
On the brink of getting crushed, East responded with sustained excellence in the third quarter, a 13-2 burst that featured 3-pointers from Julius Dailey, Ben Sylva and Zane Moravec. The last one gave the Olympians a 25-24 lead with 4:40 left in the quarter.
From that point, rather than panic, BNL fought back. Over the next 9 minutes, the Stars established control with a brilliant 16-3 run, and Leach had a lot of fingerprints on that. It started with a Jett Jones layup off Dylan Nikirk’s drive and dish. Leach then found Bennett in the corner for a bomb, hit Jones for a layup, and turned a loose ball into a transition basket and 3-point play for Bennett.
East ended its slump with Dailey’s 8-footer in the paint. After all those frustrating misses at the line, with East in foul-and-scramble mode, BNL finally iced the win with Trace Rynders, Kole Bailey and Staggs swishing 8 free throws in a row.
“You have to give them credit for getting back in the game and taking the lead,” Hein said. “You have to give our kids credit, they didn’t buckle and made some big plays to get back in front. It was our turn for a run.”
Sylva paced East with 13 points. After hitting 8 of 9 shots during the second and third quarters, the Olympians were frigid and rigid in the fourth, hitting only 3 of 17 shots.
“We have to hit some shots,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “We have to knock them down. That’s what we struggle with. We get hot, then we shoot air balls. We have to get more consistent. There were a lot of good things. We played hard. But Bedford hit shots when they needed to.”
The big question now is Leach’s form going forward. His addition gave BNL veteran experience and that missing offensive threat, which showed up in the balanced box score. Rynders also had 7 points, and the Stars were guilty of only 8 turnovers. The only glitch was 11 of 22 from the foul line, and BNL had to get hot late to reach that level.
“Having him out there took some pressure off,” Hein said. “It looked a lot more fluid, more than it had the first three games. No ifs, ands or buts about it. The balance was there, which I like to see. The first three games it was Staggs, Staggs, Staggs. Tonight we had the balance, Colten scored and created for other people.
“It’s the best thing for him. He’s been down. It allowed him to do the thing he loves, which is playing basketball. It will get him in a better frame of mind. Now he knows he can do it.”
Leach reported no postgame issues with that bionic left knee. Probably wouldn’t admit it anyway.
“It felt really good,” he said. “I felt 100 percent the whole time, nothing bad. The rust was there. I got a little tired, so it’s getting back in basketball shape.”
BNL is now back in basketball shape. Winning cures a lot of ills.
“It feels good,” Staggs said. “We can keep rolling from here.”
The Stars will return to action at Madison on Dec. 17.
COLUMBUS EAST OLYMPIANS (34)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
44 Anthony Lloyd, f 0-0 1-1 0-0 0 2 2
20 Ben Sylva, g 3-3 5-9 0-0 3 2 13
11 Zane Moravec, g 1-2 3-5 0-0 1 5 5
23 Will Rieckers, g 0-0 1-5 0-0 1 0 2
10 J.T. Kuhlman, g 0-1 0-2 2-4 2 1 2
34 Julius Dailey 1-7 3-9 1-2 8 4 8
40 Pete Coriden 0-0 1-3 0-0 2 4 2
35 Jake Gilbert 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Totals 5-14 13-34 3-6 18 19 34
BEDFORD NL STARS (50)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
4 Kaedyn Bennett, f 2-4 4-7 1-3 2 2 11
40 Jett Jones, f 0-0 3-4 0-1 5 1 6
22 Colton Staggs, g 0-1 4-8 4-5 3 3 12
1 Trace Rynders, g 1-4 2-5 2-2 2 1 7
2 Colten Leach, g 0-0 3-8 1-4 3 1 7
10 Dylan Nikirk 0-0 1-3 1-4 1 0 3
14 Kole Bailey 0-0 0-0 2-2 3 0 2
10 Dylan Endris 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 3 0
31 Logan Miracle 0-0 1-2 0-1 0 0 2
12 Maddox Ray 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
23 Memphis Louden 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
3 Quincy Pickett 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
24 Cruz Sanchez 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Totals 3-9 18-37 11-22 25 11 50
Col. East 4 7 14 9 – 34
Bedford NL 11 8 10 21 – 50
Turnovers – East 14, BNL 8
Technical foul – East bench
Field goal percentage – East 13-34 (.382); BNL 18-37 (.486)
Free throw percentage – East 3-6 (.500); BNL 11-22 (.500)