By Justin Sokeland
COLUMBUS – Contrary to recent evidence and popular belief, Bedford North Lawrence can score. Contrary to his frustrating start, Kooper Staley can still shoot.
Forget all the negative from the first two losses. Staley and the Stars were super-charged on the positive post, winning their Hoosier Hills Conference opener with an offensive burst and a tough-minded conclusion to a 68-66 road victory over Columbus East on Friday night.
Staley, one of the deluxe perimeter snipers, returned to his old form with 26 points, and sophomore Colten Leach added a career-high 24 as BNL (2-2, 1-0) survived East’s fabulous start and breathless rally in the final two minutes. BNL went old-school with patience and free throws, converting 9 in the last 77 seconds and escaping when the Olympians missed two shots that would have made the Stars squirm.
Staley did the bulk of his work in the first half, erupting for 21 points to offset the early East charge. Leach did most of his damage in the final quarter, totaling 11. The Stars started that last period with a 12-4 run to a working margin of 59-51, then held on like a mountain climber without any ropes to catch the fall.
“We were able to score and two guys really stepped up,” BNL coach Jeff Hein said. “Kooper had a great first half. They keyed on him a little in the second half, and that allowed Leach some driving opportunities. We got a big win on the road.”
The Olympians (0-4, 0-1) were hotter than a bonfire, and BNL’s defense was vanity, during the first 10 minutes, hitting 10 of their first 12 shots. That power surge gave East an 8-point lead.
That’s when Staley, scoreless the first two games and on the bench to start the third last week, came back to life. He ripped two treys to end the first quarter, then highlighted BNL’s 16-3 blast to end the half with two drives into the interior and another bomb. Leach added an offensive rebound basket and a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 38-32 lead.
East hit 12 of 19 shots – and trailed.
“They can’t hit those shots all night long,” Hein predicted to his team at intermission. “I thought we were more undisciplined than we’ve been on defense. We left our feet a lot, gave people chances to score inside that I didn’t like. But they can stretch you out, drive it hard and knock some shots in.”
East recovered to take a 46-43 lead late in the third, which Staley answered with another lane drive and Leach capped with a rebound bucket for a 47-47 deadlock. That set the stage for the BNL run to the 59-51 lead with 2:30 left.
East went the extend-the-game route at that point, putting BNL at the line in exchange for treys, and it almost worked. Aden Pemberton was 6-for-6 at the line in the fourth, while Leach made 7. Pemberton’s last two gave BNL a 67-64 advantage with 10.3 seconds left.
The Olympians almost pulled even. Jacob Pierce faked a 3-pointer from the key and got Josh Miracle off his feet, drawing contact. Pierce made the first two free throws at 4.2 seconds, but his third was short on the front rim. Ben Cosner got that rebound and absorbed the quick foul.
Cosner made the second free throw, and East got Tyler Boyer free at midcourt for a shot that clanked the rim. It was close, too close for those on the BNL sideline.
“We’re very fortunate that shot at the end didn’t go in,” Hein said, and he had the perfect viewpoint from behind the play to judge its accuracy. “I was afraid that thing was going in, the way it looked. Wooo. It looked pretty good.”
Staley matched his career high (set last year at Jeffersonville) and hit 6 treys. Not bad for a guy whose stroke had deserted him.
“It’s about time,” Staley said. “It was keeping confidence and putting in the work. Coach wants me to stay confident, and I know what I can do. You have to be true to yourself.”
BNL had other remarkable numbers, most notable among them the 4 turnovers. Pemberton totaled 8 points and Miracle added 7. Cosner grabbed 9 rebounds.
Pierce paced East with 20 points, including three baskets during the late comeback. Boyer totaled 15 and Daniel Murphy added 15.
East coach Brent Chitty pointed to two keys. One was a technical foul for failing to record a player’s name in the official scorebook. Staley made the two foul shots to start the second quarter, and guess what the final margin was? The other was the lack of defense on Staley.
“The technical foul is two points, and that’s on Coach Chitty,” he said. “That cost us the game. That’s on me. We played well enough to win. I let the team down.
“We screwed up on defense, a lack of communication, too many easy shots. We didn’t get out and defend. We tried to let them come to us. And we kind of panicked. We have to slow down, meet the run and have one of your own. Either team could win that game. Our guys have to take care of the little things. That’s something we have to change.”
BNL will seek its second straight HHC win when it hosts Madison on Saturday night and celebrates its six seniors.
BEDFORD NL STARS (68)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
11 Ben Cosner, f 0-2 1-8 1-2 9 3 3
31 Jackson Miracle, f 0-0 2-5 3-3 4 3 7
24 Colten Leach, g 1-1 7-10 9-14 4 1 24
12 Kooper Staley, g 6-11 9-17 2-2 2 1 26
3 Aden Pemberton, g 0-5 1-7 6-6 1 2 8
125 Kaedyn Bennett 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0
25 Josh Blunk 0-0 0-0 0-2 0 1 0
Totals 7-19 20-48 21-27 24 11 68
COLUMBUS EAST OLYMPIANS (66)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
33 Tyler Boyer, f 3-5 5-8 2-2 6 3 15
10 Daniel Murphy, f 2-3 6-8 1-2 5 4 15
11 Ben Major, g 0-1 2-3 1-2 0 2 5
12 Ben Sylva, g 1-2 1-3 0-0 3 4 3
31 Jacob Pierce, g 3-7 7-12 3-5 5 2 20
23 Will Rieckers 0-1 2-3 2-2 1 2 6
34 Julius Dailey 0-1 1-2 0-0 0 1 2
43 Casey Bartholomew 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 2 0
Totals 9-19 24-39 9-13 21 20 66
Bedford NL 13 25 9 21 – 68
Columbus East 19 13 15 19 – 66
Turnovers – BNL 4, East 12
Technical foul – East bench (administrative)
Field goal percentage – BNL 20-48 (.417); East 24-39 (.615)
Free throw percentage – BNL 21-27 (.778); East 9-13 (.692)