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Belgreen boys ride 56-point first half to rout of Tharptown

BELGREEN - Joseph Welch’s description of the frenetic first-half pace of Thursday’s game between Belgreen and Tharptown fell right in line with most of the Bulldogs’ early possessions—brief, but ultimately on the money.

“It was up-tempo,” said Welch, a 6’2 junior forward who finished the night with 14 points on a perfect 5-for-5 from the field in Belgreen’s 81-60 win. “The way we like it.”

Actually, up-tempo might be a bit of an understatement. The entire first half was essentially a series of end-to-end blurs (or, perhaps, one giant blur) played at a breakneck pace that produced nearly a full game’s worth of shot attempts (75), turnovers (28) and points (96).

The majority of those points belonged to the Bulldogs (12-5, 4-0 in Class 1A, Area 13), who shot 59 percent from the floor and hit seven threes on their way to taking a 56-40 lead into the locker room.

“A lot of energy, and a lot of excitement,” said Clint Isbell, Belgreen’s first-year head coach. “I’m happy with [scoring] fifty-six, but I don’t like giving up forty. That was a little disappointing. We let them have way too many second-chance opportunities. Of those forty points, I bet fifteen or twenty came on offensive rebounds.”

Isbell had no such complains about the tempo.

“It was a fast pace,” he said, “and that’s what we want. I think that’s when we’re at our best. When we come out early and play fast, it helps us get in a rhythm. Sometimes it takes a quarter or two.”

Thursday night was not one of those times. The Bulldogs made their first eight shots of the game, starting with a three by senior guard Adam Green and ending with a layup by Welch that pushed their lead to 22-13 with 2:45 left in the first quarter. When Belgreen finally did miss a shot, 6’5 sophomore Mason Bragwell grabbed the rebound and scored on a putback to make it an 11-point game.

Welch drilled the first of his three triples on the night moments later, and then Brant Bragwell’s layup at the 1:00 mark made the Bulldogs 11-for-12 from the field and gave them a 29-19 lead.

“We got a lot of those early points going to the rim,” Isbell said. “It wasn’t a lot of deep shots or pull-ups. We were getting layups off turnovers and really running the floor.”

Belgreen did, in fact, knock down four threes in the first quarter, one each from Green, Welch, Mason Bragwell and reserve guard Eli Hiser. Bragwell scored nine points in the quarter on 3-for-3 shooting, but Tharptown point guard Alex Argueta countered with seven points on 3-for-3 from the field to help the Wildcats (7-6, 3-2) stay in it—for a while. After shooting 10-for-17 in the first quarter to trail by only seven, Tharptown went just 7-for-24 in the second quarter as the Bulldogs began to pull away.

“Consistency,” Wildcat coach Jonathan Odom said after the game. “We can score for stretches, but in games like this you’ve gotta be able to score consistently.”

Belgreen, meanwhile, didn’t let up. After back-to-back buckets by Cole Daniel pulled the Wildcats within three at 29-26 early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs blitzed Tharptown with a 10-0 run in the span of just 37 seconds. Mason Bragwell started it with a pair of free throws at the 7:01 mark, and then Payton Scott came up with a steal and set up Brant Bragwell for a three to make it 34-26. A turnover—one of 15 by the Wildcats in the first half and 27 on the night—led to a jumper by Jacob Mayberry, and then Brant Bragwell assisted on a three-point play by Mason Bragwell that made it 39-26 with 6:23 left in the first half.

“We never really thought about slowing things down,” Welch said. “We just wanted to keep it going.”

Oftentimes, it’s the versatile Scott who gets Belgreen going in the first place. The junior forward set an aggressive tone on Thursday night, coming up with two steals in the game’s first 90 seconds. He converted the first one into an easy layup, and the second led to a basket by senior Grayson Moore that gave the Bulldogs an 8-2 lead right out of the gate.

“That’s one thing you can never take away from Payton—he’s gonna play hard, and he’s gonna get after it,” Isbell said of Scott, who finished the night with six points on 2-for-2 shooting and also had four steals. “He’s one of the emotional leaders for this team. He sets the tone with his energy, and when he starts getting steals and layups and making those plays, the other guys just feed off him. He’s a competitor.

“All twelve guys we’ve got are competitors. I thought they all competed really well tonight.”

Scott’s layup off a slick bounce pass from Brant Bragwell at the 6:00 mark of the second quarter stretched the lead to 41-27, and then Green converted a driving layup into a three-point play. Daniel’s three at the 3:50 mark got the Wildcats back within 12, but Welch answered with a three-point play and then a dagger from beyond the arc that made it 50-32 with still three minutes remaining in the first half.

Green would add yet another and-one at the 1:37 mark, and then Hiser’s triple in the final half-minute capped off the Bulldogs’ highest-scoring half of the season and sent them into the break with a 16-point cushion.

Welch had 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the first half, and Mason Bragwell was even more productive, scoring 14 points on 4-for-5 from the field and pulling down six rebounds.

Whether due to fatigue or merely the law of averages, the pace slowed down and the shooting dropped off considerably in a sloppy third quarter. The Bulldogs shot just 3-for-15 from the floor, but the Wildcats couldn’t capitalize, missing all nine of their attempts and committing 10 more turnovers.

“I thought we did a much better job on the boards in the third quarter,” said Isbell, whose team out-scored Tharptown 10-3 in the third to open up a 66-43 lead. “We gave up a lot of second-chance points in the first half, and that’s something we discussed at halftime. We discussed it aggressively. But we got it fixed. I bet we had more rebounds as a team in the third quarter than we did in the first two combined.”

The Wildcats finished with a 40-34 edge on the glass, but Belgreen had the advantage virtually everywhere else. The Bulldogs shot 45 percent from the field (including 10 threes) and 19-for-28 from the foul line, compared to 36 percent (with just two threes) from the floor and 10-for-19 for Tharptown. Belgreen also had 17 steals and finished plus-six in the turnover department.

Mason Bragwell finished with 18 points in a super-efficient effort, shooting 5-for-7 from the field and 7-for-7 from the line. The big man also pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked three shots. Welch had eight boards to go along with his 14 points. Brant Bragwell finished with 11 points and four steals, and Green added 10 points and six boards.

Hiser hit three treys and had nine points, and Mayberry scored six. Moore added four points and five rebounds, and Seth Taylor had two points and two steals. Shane DeVaney went 1-for-2 at the line, giving the Bulldogs 10 different players in the scoring column.

“That’s definitely an advantage for us,” Welch said, “having so many different guys who can score.”

Argueta led Tharptown with a season-high 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting, adding three rebounds, two assists and five steals. Daniel scored nine points, and senior Mikey Rosson finished with eight points and 12 rebounds. Carson Petree also scored eight, and Levi McCormack added seven.

Matt Hall had six points and five boards, and Joel Mojica scored five points. Micael Saldana chipped in with three points and six boards.

Belgreen now has a two-game lead in the loss column over both Tharptown and Hackleburg in the area standings, but the Bulldogs are yet to play an area game on the road. They’ll visit the Wildcats and the Panthers, along with Phillips and Vina, before the month is out.

“We’re in first place for now,” Isbell said, “but like I told our guys, that doesn’t really mean anything. It’s only gonna get tougher from here. We’re 4-0, but we don’t wanna settle for that.”

Welch agreed.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “There are still a lot of good teams we have to play.”

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