BALANCED ATTACK: Johnson brothers shine, get strong support as Belton rips Northeast in 12-6A tuneup
FROM WAY DOWNTOWN: Belton sophomore Trap Johnson takes a 3-point shot over Austin Northeast Early College defender Manny Jaimes during the first half of the host Tigers' 78-46 victory against the Raiders on Wednesday night at Tiger Gym. Johnson made three 3-pointers and scored 15 of his 17 points before halftime for Belton (14-2), and senior TJ Johnson (44), his older brother, also made three 3s and scored a game-high 20 points. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BELTON – Everything that Belton fourth-year head boys basketball coach Jason Fossett likes about his team was on display Wednesday night at Tiger Gym.
In the first 1½ minutes against non-district opponent Austin Northeast Early College, four-year standout TJ Johnson made a 3-point shot from straight on and then drove down the lane for a powerful two-handed dunk.
Sophomore Trap Johnson, TJ’s younger brother, drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing and converted two steals into layups off passes from seniors Trent West and Seth Morgan as the Tigers seized an early 18-2 lead.
Senior Bryan “Itty” Henry consistently used his big body and strength to produce success near the basket, West followed his scoreless first half by suddenly exploding for all 10 of his points in the third quarter’s first 3½ minutes to make it a runaway, and Belton’s reserve players contributed 21 points to the cause.
TJ Johnson scored a game-high 20 points, Trap Johnson tallied 15 of his 17 points before halftime and the Tigers used a stellar team effort to bounce back from only their second loss and dominate Northeast for a 78-46 victory.
“I thought we were pretty solid tonight. We’ve got a lot of guys who are capable of shooting and making the basketball, and tonight you saw that in spurts,” said Fossett, whose Tigers (14-2) made 13 shots from 3-point range and were 7-for-7 on free throws. “Trap had it going in the first half, Trent had it going later and TJ was pretty solid throughout.
“Then Itty does what he does inside, which has been a tremendous help having him this year. Then you’ve got Seth, who’s a good athlete, a glue guy and a defense guy. And then we bring a couple guys off the bench in (seniors) Tyler Tingle and Peyton Euer who can really shoot the ball, too.”
After a season-opening 53-48 loss to Fort Worth Chisholm Trail four weeks ago, Belton racked up 13 consecutive wins before falling 52-36 to San Antonio Antonian Prep (20-0) – ranked No. 1 among the state’s large private schools – last Saturday in the championship game of the San Antonio ISD Tournament.
Although the Tigers’ shot to win their second straight tournament crown evaporated as Antonian limited them to 10 second-half points after a halftime deadlock, Fossett believes the 3-1 run in San Antonio helped Belton continue its upward trend heading into the start of District 12-6A competition next Tuesday at Killeen.
“I think it was good. The game before, we played really well when we beat Converse Judson, probably the best game we’ve played this year. Then we played a good first half against Antonian and it was 26-all at halftime,” said Fossett, who guided last season’s Tigers to a Class 6A playoff berth. “And then in the second half it kind of got away from us. Like I told the guys, we went down there and played 16 quarters and we played probably 13 good ones. The first one of the tournament was bad and the last two were bad.
“What we talk about all the time is we’ve got to have a baseline. We can’t be up, down, up, down. Last year’s group was pretty consistent. You pretty much knew game in and game out what you were going to get from them. And we’ve got to be the same this year. We’ve got to be steady. We can’t play real great one game and real bad one game. It’s got to be steady and you’ve got to find a happy medium.”
Belton’s Johnson brothers made three 3-pointers apiece, West and Tingle each made two 3-pointers and the Tigers got one 3 each from seniors Euer and Toby Smithey and sophomore Gian Carlo. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Henry recorded eight points after signing a national letter of intent earlier in the day to play college football for Houston, and all 11 Tigers in uniform got into the scoring column.
For 5A Northeast, the Austin school previously called Reagan, Jerod Thomas made three 3-pointers in the second half and scored 11 points for the Raiders (10-7), who also got 11 from Nickholas Hernandez. Jivenson Sylvestre, whose burly 6-4 frame and athleticism caused some problems for Belton in the paint, added 10 points.
TRAFFIC JAM: Belton senior forward TJ Johnson takes a shot in the lane against two Austin Northeast Early College defenders during the first half of the Tigers' 78-46 win Wednesday night at Tiger Gym. Johnson, who has signed to play at NCAA Division I Lipscomb, scored 10 points in each half as Belton improved to 14-2 entering its District 12-6A opener at Killeen next Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
The Tigers got off to a blazing start as they grabbed an 18-2 lead halfway through the first quarter. TJ Johnson, who's signed to play for NCAA Division I Lipscomb (Tenn.), made a 3-pointer from up top with 16 seconds gone, then Trap Johnson nailed a 3 from the left wing 35 seconds later for a 6-0 advantage.
After Morgan made two free throws, the 6-6 TJ Johnson collected the ball off a steal, penetrated the lane and threw down a forceful jam to make it 10-2. Belton then turned defense into offense, creating two steals that led to layups by the 6-5 Trap Johnson thanks to passes by West and Morgan. Those buckets plus Henry’s 6-foot bank shot and two TJ Johnson foul shots pushed the Tigers’ lead to 18-2.
Northeast answered back during the final 3 minutes of the first quarter – after which Beltonand the first 2 minutes of the second, using two inside baskets by Sylvestre and seven Hernandez points to compile a 15-5 run that trimmed Belton’s lead to 23-17 with 6:09 remaining until halftime.
However, the Tigers came back with a strong response that set the tone for the rest of the evening. Henry scored inside off a TJ Johnson pass, Trap Johnson made a left-wing 3 and cut in for as left-handed layin before Tingle hit a left-corner 3 to end a 10-0 blitz that made it 33-17 2:34 before intermission.
Trap Johnson capped his 15-point first half by making a long-range 3 from the top right to give the Tigers a commanding 36-19 at the break.
“Heck, first off he’s probably 3 or 4 inches taller than last year. He’s just a little under 6-5, and he’s filling out more. He doesn’t even turn 16 until June, so he’s got a really, really bright future ahead of him,” Fossett said about Trap Johnson, who like his brother TJ was a varsity starter as a freshman and earned a spot on the all-tournament team last weekend in San Antonio. “You saw glimpses of it last year, and you’re seeing more glimpses of it this year.”
During the third quarter the spotlight transitioned to the 6-3, athletic West, who like Henry and Morgan was a key member of Belton’s playoff football team. West caught a Henry pass and scored off the glass 14 seconds into the second half, then he made an open 3-pointer from the right corner for a 41-21 lead.
After TJ Johnson’s right-wing 3, West popped out to the perimeter and drilled a left-wing 3, then he followed Henry’s deft up-and-under layup by scoring a fast-break layin to complete his impressive burst of 10 points in 3½ minutes for a 51-26 advantage.
“I’ve been happy with Trent this year. He’s not trying to do too much. He’s letting the game come to him,” Fossett said. “If he’s open, he shoots it. If he’s not, he passes it. He just wants to win. I think that’s the thing with all these guys. They want to do what it takes to win.”
Belton’s lead grew to 29 at 55-26 on Trap Johnson’s spinning layup and Henry’s two free throws, and Smithey’s 3 and a lefty layin by senior Aaron Rhoads gave the Tigers a 60-33 advantage through three quarters.
INSIDE FORCE: Belton senior Bryan "Itty" Henry goes up to score two of his eight points during the Tigers' 78-46 win over Austin Northeast Early College on Wednesday night at Tiger Gym as teammates Trap Johnson (23) and Seth Morgan look on. Earlier in the day, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Henry signed a letter of intent to play college football for the Houston Cougars. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
“I think we have more offensive punch this year, especially with Itty inside. He’s been a huge help,” Fossett said, mentioning that Henry missed almost all of his junior basketball season because of knee surgery after his football season. “We can drive and dump some, whereas last year we couldn’t do that because we didn’t really have a big inside. We have more shooters and offensive weapons this year.”
TJ Johnson surpassed the 2,000-point milestone for his career as Belton won the Cedar Creek tournament in early December, and the versatile forward provided one more flurry against Northeast. He scored inside, drove for another bucket and made a 3 from up top for a 67-38 lead before the Tigers’ starters departed with 4½ minutes left as their home crowd applauded.
“The thing that impresses me about TJ is he was our best player as a freshman, and his numbers and everything have gotten better, and they’ve done that with everybody knowing he’s our best player,” Fossett said about TJ Johnson, who scored 25 points per game as a junior. “Three years ago, nobody really knew who he was. Last year, everybody was trying to stop him. This year, everybody’s trying to stop him even more, and he’s putting up I think 22 points per game.”
As Fossett made his postgame comments, what he had written on the dry-erase board in Belton’s team room presented a clear picture of the challenge that awaits the Tigers during their 14-game schedule in 12-6A.
“We’ll see what happens now that non-district’s behind us. I told the guys, ‘Whatever our record is now doesn’t really matter. It’s 0-0. If we lose to Killeen on Tuesday, those first (16) games we played don’t really make two hills of beans,’” said Fossett, whose Tigers will play in the Buda Hays tournament after Christmas before their district home opener against rival Temple on Jan. 4.
Last season Belton broke through to earn its first playoff berth since the 2017-18 season, but as 12-6A’s No. 4 seed the Tigers (18-8) had to play top-ranked Waxahachie in the bi-district round and were eliminated 99-62.
Although battle-tested Belton has higher aspirations this season, Fossett knows that another postseason trip is anything but guaranteed for the Tigers.
“It took everything we had (to make the playoffs last season). We want to of course get in again, but we would love to finish higher than fourth,” he said. “The main thing is first to get in. That’s goal No. 1, and goal No. 2 is to finish higher than fourth.
“You look at our district . . . good grief. You’ve got Harker Heights, who’s only lost two games and was ranked fourth in the state last week. (Defending district champion Killeen) Ellison is Ellison. Shoemaker is 12-4. Bryan is 15-4. And Temple’s playing well and Coach (Joey) Martin’s doing a really good job. There’s only four (playoff) spots. That’s the bad thing. I don’t think there’s a team that you can not show up and win. Every night you have to show up and play.”
Time will tell where Belton finishes in rough-and-tumble 12-6A and whether the Tigers can advance past the playoffs’ first round, but Fossett does have a good feeling about the makeup of his team and what it’s capable of achieving.
“Everybody’s unselfish. They just want to win. If it means not shooting, great. If it means they need to shoot, great. They’re just very unselfish and play for each other. And that’s what we’ve got to do,” Fossett said. “I mean, you look at us and look at some of the other teams in our district and you think, ‘Well, how in the world are they going to compete?’ But we play together well as a group and do what we think we have to do to be successful.”
BOYS HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Austin Northeast Early College 46
Northeast 8 11 14 13 – 46
Belton 20 16 24 18 – 78
Northeast (10-7) – Nickholas Hernandez 11, Jerod Thomas 11, Jivenson Sylvestre 10, Manny Jaimes 7, JaMichael Foster 5, Noah Flemmings 2.
Belton (14-2) – TJ Johnson 20, Trap Johnson 17, Trent West 10, Bryan “Itty” Henry 8, Tyler Tingle 6, Gian Carlo 5, Peyton Euer 3, Toby Smithey 3, Micaiha Edwards 2, Seth Morgan 2, Aaron Rhoads 2.
3-point field goals – Northeast 6 (Thomas 3, Foster 1, Hernandez 1, Jaimes 1); Belton 13 (TJ Johnson 3, Trap Johnson 3, Tingle 2, West 2, Carlo 1, Euer 1, Smithey 1). Free throws – Northeast 2-4; Belton 7-7.
Note – Belton will begin District 12-6A play at Killeen at 2:30 p.m. next Tuesday.
Junior varsity – Belton 57, Northeast 34.
Freshman – Belton Red 76, Northeast 6.