BIG RED BARRAGE: Balanced Belton buries 17 3-pointers, pulls away from Killeen to start 2-0 in 12-6A
LONG-DISTANCE GUNNER: Belton senior shooting guard Ben Jones made four of Belton's 17 3-point baskets and scored 14 points to help the Tigers beat Killeen 78-58 in their District 12-6A home opener Tuesday evening at Tiger Gym. Belton also got five 3-pointers from junior forward TJ Johnson (game-high 28 points), four from senior guard Kayden Downs (18 points) and three from freshman wing Trap Johnson (13 points) as head coach Jason Fossett's Tigers improved to 11-1 overall and 2-0 in district competition. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BELTON – Anybody who watched the entirety of Belton's District 12-6A boys basketball home opener against Killeen on Tuesday evening likely would say that junior TJ Johnson is the Tigers' best all-around player.
The versatile 6-foot-6 forward and third-year starter made five 3-point shots and was 9-for-10 on free throws en route to a game-high 28 points, in addition to making an impact as a rebounder and shot blocker.
However, anyone who maybe popped in and out of Tiger Gym throughout the game might have thought Belton's top player is senior guard Kayden Downs, who nailed three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the game-changing second quarter and added another 3 and four free throws in the fourth to finish with 18 points.
Or senior shooting guard Ben Jones, who sank three 3-pointers in the first half and four overall in his 14-point performance.
Or freshman wing Trap Johnson, who after scoring only first-half two points caught fire during the third quarter, drilling three 3-pointers and producing 11 points in the period to help offset his older brother TJ's scoreless third.
With so many shooters who can get that hot, especially from behind the 3-point arc, it's easy to see why the Tigers believe they can break through and become one of 12-6A's four playoff teams in head coach Jason Fossett's third season.
The Johnson brothers, Downs and Jones combined for 16 of Belton's 17 3-pointers and 73 points and Killeen simply couldn't keep pace with that long-range attack as the Tigers pulled away for a 78-58 win over the Kangaroos and improved to 2-0 in district play.
“When you get three or four guys that can knock shots down, it's tough to guard. We did a good job tonight,” Fossett said after Belton moved to 11-1 overall.
Seven of Belton's 3-pointers came during a 4-minute segment of the second quarter as the red-hot Tigers turned a 19-13 deficit into a 38-27 advantage by closing the first half with a stunning 25-8 run.
“We all just got together and said, 'Relax. Let's just play our game.' And we just started shooting and everything was falling. I mean, it was great,” said Jones, who made two 3-pointers in the second quarter to complement three 3s from Downs and two by TJ Johnson.
“We were taking good shots. We weren't rushing anything,” TJ Johnson, who's averaging 27.8 points per game, said while holding an ice pack to help him recover from a series of hard Killeen fouls that broke up his potential slam dunks. “We work so much in practice on, 'Be ready. Get your feet under you. Hit the open man.' This was one of our best shooting nights we've had all season.”
GO-TO GUY: Belton junior forward TJ Johnson, shown after a 53-31 win at Temple last week, scored a game-best 28 points to help lead the Tigers to a 78-58 victory against Killeen in their District 12-6A home opener Tuesday evening at Tiger Gym. The 6-foot-6 Johnson made five of Belton's 17 3-point baskets. His younger brother Trap Johnson, a 6-2 freshman wing, hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter and scored 13 points as the Tigers (11-1) moved to 2-0 in district. Senior guards Kayden Downs and Ben Jones made four 3s each. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Three seniors led Killeen (2-5, 0-1): speedy Jayden White with 14 points, rugged Kadarius Marshall with 12 and De'Marco Blas with 11, highlighted by his team-high three 3-pointers. But the Kangaroos of head coach Reggie Huggins were hindered in their 12-6A opener by 17 turnovers and 10-for-18 shooting on free throws, along with allowing Belton to score 51 points from 3-point range alone.
“We took care of the ball and didn't turn it over and give them any run-out layups. And when we're shooting the ball that well, we're pretty tough,” said Fossett, whose Tigers began 12-6A competition with a 53-31 win at rival Temple last Tuesday, Belton's first victory at Wildcat Gym since 2011. “(Killeen) hurt us on the boards – I thought a lot on the offensive glass – but for the most part we took care of the ball and we shot it with high efficiency. When you do that, you've got a good chance to win a lot of games.”
Also aiding Belton's cause was 15-of-21 shooting from the free throw line.
“We're a very good free throw shooting team,” Fossett said. “I'd say we work quite a bit on it. If you're a good 3-point shooter, you're probably a pretty good free throw shooter, too. We have several good 3-point shooters. And also, late in the game when the game's on the line and people are trying to foul you, we're going to put the ball in our best free throw shooters' hands.”
The most misleading statistic of the game probably was 2-point field goals made – Killeen had 15 of those to six such buckets for Belton. But with the Tigers making 17 3-pointers to the Kangaroos' 6, that 33-point difference was far too big of a factor for Killeen to overcome.
The resilient Roos trailed by only five points at 48-43 after White's driving basket with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter, but the Tigers countered with one 3-pointer apiece from Jones, Trap Johnson and junior Seth Morgan to build their lead back up to a comfortable 57-43 entering the fourth.
“We have each others' backs 24/7. We know we can rely on each other and trust each other,” Jones said. “It's awesome, because we have that same accountability in practice as well. We just have fun with it.”
Belton jumped out to a 6-0 lead thanks to Jones' 3-pointer from the right corner and TJ Johnson's right-wing 3, but Killeen responded as Dominic Davis made two 3s in a 40-second span before Blas buried another 3 to help propel the Kangaroos to a 15-11 advantage after the first quarter. TJ Johnson with eight points and Jones with three were the Tigers' only scorers in the opening period.
“The only thing I think we need to really work on is that first quarter,” Jones said. “We've got to come out really hot.”
“The main thing was we wanted to not give them easy buckets to get them going, take care of the ball against the press, make them hit shots from outside the paint and then not turn the ball over,” said Fossett, whose squad committed 13 turnovers. “I thought for the most part we did that, except for in the first quarter they really got after us on the offensive boards. After the first quarter, I thought we were even with them. We're not the biggest, so we think that if we can play even with you on the boards, that's a win for us.”
Killeen's lead grew to 19-13 1:50 into the second quarter as the slender White hit an 18-foot jump shot and used his quickness to make a driving banker.
Downs was scoreless in the game's first 10 minutes, but that changed in a hurry and with a flurry. The 6-foot combination guard who missed all of last season with a torn labrum in his shoulder made a 3-pointer from the top at the 5:55 mark, then followed Jones' 3 from the same spot by drilling a 3 from the right corner to give Belton three 3s in a 55-second span for a 22-19 lead 5 minutes before halftime.
Downs then added a layup off a behind-the-back pass from senior guard Luke Bramlett and Trap Johnson scored a putback hoop before Downs hit an open 3 from the left wing for a 29-22 advantage.
“I just now looked at the book and Kayden Downs had 18 – it was a quiet 18,” Fossett said. “I think he was just pretty efficient.”
TJ Johnson then got into the long-distance act by nailing two 3s from the left side in a 30-second span to make it 35-23, and Jones hit a 3 from the left corner to help the Tigers build a 38-27 halftime lead.
Killeen finally contained TJ Johnson in the third quarter, keeping him scoreless following his 16-point first half. However, it was the other half of Belton's Johnson & Johnson tandem that burned the Roos.
The 6-2 Trap Johnson, limited to two points at Temple and two in the first half against Killeen, developed the hot hand at just the right time after the Kangaroos trimmed the Tigers' lead to 38-33 on back-to-back 3s by Blas and Marshall to begin the third quarter.
The freshman made a 3 from the right wing, hit two free throws and then sank another right-wing 3 to extend the advantage to 46-35 midway through the period. Although six points by active post AB Oladipo and White's hard-driving layup sparked Killeen to get within 48-43 with 2:41 left in the third, Belton answered decisively.
Jones hit a 3 from the right corner, Trap Johnson sank a right-wing 3 in transition – his third during his 11-point quarter – and Morgan drilled a right-corner 3 off a TJ Johnson pass to put the Tigers back in control at 57-43 entering the fourth.
“People forget that Trap's a freshman,” Fossett said. “He's going to have some ups and downs. But you can definitely see there's a lot of potential there.”
Said TJ Johnson about his younger brother and fellow starter: “I remember from my freshman year there were a lot of ups and downs. There's games where he does look like a freshman, but there's others when he looks like he could be an upperclassman.”
Belton's seniors ensured that there would not be another Killeen comeback. Downs began the final quarter with an open left-wing 3, TJ Johnson made two free throws and Jones scored a layup off a steal before TJ Johnson nailed a 3 from each side. TJ Johnson (6-for-6) and Downs (4-for-4) were a combined 10-for-10 on fourth-quarter free throws.
Twelve district games remain for Belton, beginning next Tuesday at Copperas Cove (1-1 in district) before the Tigers' home showdown next Friday with No. 11-ranked Killeen Ellison (14-0, 2-0), the reigning 12-6A champion. Jones said earning a playoff berth – and maybe even contending for the district championship – definitely is on the Tigers' minds.
“We talk about that every day,” said Jones, who's committed to attend and play baseball for East Texas Baptist. “We have that mindset that we can beat anybody in this district. We don't care how we win it; we're going to try to win that game.”
Fossett recorded his third consecutive home victory against Killeen, whose Kangaroos he coached to a 193-51 record and six district championships in seven seasons from 2005-12. However, he was more excited to discuss Belton's first 2-0 start in district play since, well, he really isn't sure.
“Somebody would have to do research on it, because MaxPreps only goes back to '04, so nobody knows the last time Belton was 2-0 in district. So that's what our goal was – we wanted to be 2-0 in district,” said Fossett, whose Tigers will play a non-district game at Leander Glenn at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. “Belton basketball has not been consistent in a long time, and this team is doing some things that haven't been done in a while and we want to continue to do it. You know who we have to beat? We have to beat Cove.”
DISTRICT 12-6A BOYS BASKETBALL
BELTON 78, KILLEEN 58
Killeen 15 12 16 15 – 58
Belton 11 27 19 21 – 78
Killeen (2-5, 0-1) – Jayden White 14, Kadarius Marshall 12, De'Marco Blas 11, Dominic Davis 6, AB Oladipo 6, John Scott 4, Andre Clay 3, Marques Boatman 1, Carlos Martinez 1.
Belton (11-1, 2-0) – TJ Johnson 28, Kayden Downs 18, Ben Jones 14, Trap Johnson 13, Seth Morgan 3, Luke Bramlett 2.
3-point field goals – Killeen: 6 (Blas 3, Davis 2, Marshall 1); Belton 17 (TJ Johnson 5, Downs 4, Jones 4, Tr. Johnson 3, Morgan 1).
Free throws – Killeen 10-18; Belton 15-21.
Junior varsity – Belton 62, Killeen 53.
Freshman – Belton Red 69, Killeen 40.