• Greg Wille

PULLING AWAY: Third-quarter blitz sends Academy past Lake Belton, 90-79; Bees meet Connally in final


LET IT FLY: Academy senior point guard Darion Franklin takes a 3-point shot over Lake Belton junior Devin Gossett during the host Bumblebees' 90-79 win against the Broncos in Friday night's Academy Basketball Tournament game at The Hive. Franklin made four 3-pointers and scored a game-best 27 points for Class 3A No. 11-ranked Academy (8-5), which got 18 points each from senior guards Quintrell Lockett and Trae Rambeau and 17 points from junior guard Cole Shackelford. The Bees battle 4A No. 11 Waco Connally (8-2) in the championship game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Junior Easton Hammond paced Lake Belton (8-5) with 24 points and sophomore Logan Flores contributed 14. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)





By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – The state-ranked Academy Bumblebees entered Friday night knowing that a win against Lake Belton would send them into the championship game of their Academy Basketball Tournament.

However, the visiting Broncos made it anything but easy for Academy to complete that task. The athletic team from second-year school Lake Belton led by six points in the first quarter, had a three-point halftime advantage and trailed by only one after Peanut Brazzle made a 3-point shot with 51 seconds left in the third.

But the game suddenly and completely changed during that period’s final 40 seconds as the Bees – state semifinalists last season – employed their experience and poise to finally take control.

Academy used consecutive three-point plays by Quintrell Lockett and Darion Franklin plus a crucial technical foul on Lake Belton to explode for a 10-0 run in a 33-second span for an 11-point lead after three, and the Broncos couldn’t recover from that flurry as the Bees charged to an entertaining 90-79 victory at The Hive.

Class 3A No. 11-ranked Academy (8-5) won Pool A with a 3-0 record and will battle 4A No. 11 Waco Connally (8-2), which went 3-0 in Pool B, for the tournament championship at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Franklin made four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 27 points, and fellow senior guards Lockett and Trae Rambeau produced 18 points apiece for Academy, which got 17 from junior guard Cole Shackelford as that foursome outscored Lake Belton by one. The Bees poured in 56 points after halftime.

Rambeau said he and the Bees weren’t surprised by the strong challenge from Lake Belton (8-5), which was paced by junior Easton Hammond’s 24 points and 14 points from sophomore reserve guard Logan Flores, who made four 3-pointers.

“They came out with a lot of energy,” Rambeau said about the Broncos. “We kind of expected that because we beat them last year and they probably wanted revenge. We just played our game.”

The final game of the tournament’s second day had the feel of an important district matchup, which prompted a fast-paced, high-scoring style that suited both Academy and 4A Lake Belton.

“The kids know each other, and I think that played a part in that they were really fired up to play us and our guys were fired up, too. It was a lot of energy and the crowd and atmosphere were good,” said Academy head coach James Holt, whose squad has gone 7-2 since battle-tested players such as Franklin and Rambeau returned to basketball after the Bees’ 11-2 football season.

After Lake Belton lost to 2A No. 4 Mumford and beat 4A China Spring on Thursday, second-year head coach Zane Johnston was eager to see how his senior-less Broncos would handle the prime-time showdown against Academy.

“These Academy kids and Lake Belton kids, they’ve played together and they’ve known each other for a while, so that always helps you get up for the situation,” said Johnston, formerly the top assistant coach for now-retired Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Ken DeWeese. “Playing at 7:30 with a good crowd in a hostile environment, that’s really the first time we’ve been in a situation like this. I told them before the game, ‘If you can’t get up for this game, there’s something wrong with you.’ And they did. They played with really good effort and energy and they were unselfish, and it helped that we made some shots.”

Juniors Devin Gossett and Javeon Wilcox scored 10 points each for Lake Belton, which already has matched the eight wins of its inaugural 2020-21 season. The Broncos will complete their tournament stay against Grandview at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.


DRIVE AND KICK: Academy senior guard Quintrell Lockett penetrates the lane and fires a pass to sophomore Zane Clark (21) during the Bumblebees' 90-79 victory over Lake Belton in an Academy Basketball Tournament game Friday night at The Hive. Lockett made all three of his 3-point baskets in the fourth quarter and scored 18 points for Academy (8-5), which battles 4A No. 11 Waco Connally in the championship game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)



Shackelford made a 3-pointer from the right wing 11 seconds into the game and Franklin hit a right-corner 3 14 seconds later to give Academy a 6-0 lead, but that immediate spark didn’t last long. The 6-foot-2, aggressive Hammond banked in a right-wing 3 and got inside for three baskets to tally nine points in the first 4 minutes, and Lake Belton seized its first lead at 11-10 when sophomore guard Brazzle converted a Bees turnover into a layup.

Wilcox scored on a fast break, Leonard King made a 12-foot jump shot and Flores drilled a 3-pointer to cap an 18-6 run that gave the Broncos their largest lead at 18-12 with 1:12 remaining in the first quarter.

According to Holt, the biggest culprit was Academy’s inability to prevent Lake Belton’s explosive jumpers – notably Wilcox and Hammond – from grabbing offensive rebounds and taking advantage of additional scoring opportunities.

“The first half, we really got hurt on the boards. They had, by our stats, I think 13 offensive rebounds in the first half and we had maybe five or six total defensive rebounds,” Holt said. “That was the big stat in the first half. We were turning them over, which usually means we’re shooting more, but they ended up with more shots in the first half. They shot well.

“They were making some shots, but they were also getting two or three shots per possession, and we can’t do that. We’ve got to do a better job blocking out. I don’t think we were blocking out the way we need to, and we talked about that before the game. These guys are getting Division I offers in football, because they’re very athletic and they can jump. I said, ‘We’re not going to outjump them, so we have to outfundamental them, which means block them out every single time.’ I don’t think we did that good enough in the first half, but in the second half we did a little bit better. That’s been one of our focuses all year and it’s something we have to get better at.”

Academy cut its deficit to 18-17 by the end of the opening period. Shackelford made a right-corner 3-pointer, then Franklin saved the ball from going out of bounds in the left corner with a blind, over-the-head pass that Rambeau caught in midair on the left baseline before deftly turning to make a bank shot as time expired.

The second quarter began with a Flores 3-pointer and two Wilcox free throws after his offensive rebound for a 23-17 Lake Belton lead, but the Bees responded with an 11-0 run – two Franklin 3-pointers, a 3 by sophomore reserve guard Zane Clark and Rambeau’s driving bucket – to move ahead 28-23 at the 4:45 mark.

Undeterred, the Broncos put together a 14-6 spurt that featured 3-ponters by Gossett and Hammond and Gossett’s putback hoop to grab a 37-34 halftime lead.

Johnston said Lake Belton came into Academy’s tournament shooting only 20 percent from 3-point range, so making 11 shots from beyond the arc definitely constituted progress for the Broncos’ offense.

“We have not been shooting well. I’ve given the red light to some of them and moved a JV kid (Flores) up and he’s hit eight 3s in the last two games. Our guys trust him and know that he can shoot,” Johnston said. “But it’s contagious, because he hit some and then my kid (Brazzle) who’s been shooting in the low teens, he hits (two) 3s in this game. They’ve just got to see it go through a couple of times and ignite that flame.”

Academy came out hot in the third quarter, producing a 13-4 run in a 3:08 span to nab a 47-41 lead. Franklin and Shackelford scored putback baskets, Franklin made an 8-footer and Rambeau finished in traffic off a turnover, then Franklin nailed a right-wing 3 and Shackelford’s blocked shot led to Lockett hanging in midair for a tough layup.

“They can shoot the ball, they drive and they have great IQ,” Rambeau said about Lockett and Shackelford. “They give us a great energy boost all around. They play great defense and are a really big part of the team.”

However, Lake Belton refused to go away. Wilcox’s 19-foot jumper and 3-pointers by Gossett and Brazzle created a 49-49 deadlock with 3:13 left in the third. Rambeau drove for a bucket and senior Grant Langfeld made a left-wing 3 for a 54-49 Academy lead, but Brazzle’s left-side 3 trimmed the Broncos’ deficit to 54-53 with 51 seconds remaining in the quarter.

What happened next was the sequence that both head coaches said largely decided the outcome. Franklin whipped a pass inside to Lockett, who scored a difficult banker and completed the three-point play for a 57-53 game with 36.8 seconds left. Franklin then made a steal and a left-handed layup, getting fouled in the process with 10.9 ticks to go.

A Lake Belton player was assessed a technical foul after that call. Franklin made his free throw for a three-point play, Shackelford sank his two foul shots for the technical and on Academy’s ensuing possession Franklin carved inside for an easy basket, giving the Bees a staggering seven points on one trip down the court. That blitzkrieg of 10 points in 33 seconds supplied them with a commanding 64-53 advantage entering the final quarter.

“I think we were able to pressure them a little more and force some turnovers and get out in transition better,” said Holt, whose team collected seven third-quarter turnovers. “Quintrell did a good job of getting rebounds and just going instead of trying to find Darion. He just got the ball and went, and we got some easy points. Zane got a steal and went in for a layup. Little plays like that add up over the course of the game. The kind of way we play, we put a lot of pressure and it wears teams down over time. That helps us.”

Said Johnston about Academy: “They hit shots. They started the game hitting shots, they kind of went cold for a minute, then in the third quarter they hit, hit, hit. Then we put a little more pressure on them and we had a hard time keeping (Franklin) in front of us. We’ve got to clean some things up.”

Academy essentially put the game out of reach during the final period's first 3 minutes. Rambeau drove for a basket, Lockett made back-to-back 3-pointers from the top and Franklin navigated the baseline for a nifty layin and a 74-57 lead, then the Bees answered a 5-0 Broncos spurt with Shackelford’s 3 and Clark’s steal and layup for a 79-62 game with 5 minutes remaining.

Holt commended the all-around performance of combination guard Shackelford.

“The biggest thing is Cole’s intensity defensively. He just plays hard the entire time. He’s coming up with saves, he’s picking up guys full-court the whole game,” Holt said. “He plays with a lot of energy and he’s one of our better rebounders. And then offensively, he can shoot a little bit and he can attack the hole.

“Those guys are hard to guard, because if you make a couple (outside) shots, now that guy’s running out at you and you’re taking him off the bounce. He’s able to get to the basket and he’s a pretty good finisher at times. But he’s also been a point guard his whole life, so when he’s in the paint he’s looking for that dish, finding the open man. Honestly, Darion, Quintrell and Cole are all basically point guards. You can’t have too many point guards. At this level, that’s probably the most important position.”

Academy secured its win as a cutting Rambeau scored two baskets off crisp passes from three-year starter and reigning District 19-3A Co-MVP Franklin, who helped power the Bees to last season’s state semifinals.

“We have chemistry. We’ve been playing with each other for as long as I can remember,” Rambeau said about himself and Franklin.

“Academy is a team that has the experience. They’ve been there and done that. They were in the state tournament last year and a lot of these guys are returning,” Johnston said. “They know how to continue that focus, that mentality through 32 minutes. That was my message (to Lake Belton's players) today.

“We didn’t play a complete game, but we played probably a solid 3½ quarters of basketball and I’m pleased with the effort. I’m tickled to death with the way they competed. Coach Holt does a good job. His kids compete, and that’s what we’re going to be. You play good teams early so you get that experience and confidence about how to handle the adversity that goes on without thinking about it.”

Academy figures to have its hands full in Saturday afternoon’s tournament championship duel against Connally and its pressure defense. The state-ranked Cadets won their three pool-play games by an average of 34.7 points, capped by a 60-45 victory over Salado on Friday.

“They have a really good half-court and full-court trap and they bring a lot of energy,” Rambeau said about Connally. “We can’t turn the ball over, because they finish everything around the rim. They rely on defense to feed their offense. We’ve just got to be smart with the ball, find the open person, keep driving and shoot open shots.”

Even though Academy compiled 90 points against Lake Belton, Holt emphasized that the Bees must play with greater intelligence, physicality and efficiency to contend with the athletes and style of play that Connally presents.

“They’ve got good size. Even their guards are 6-1 and 6-2. They’ve got a big guy inside who can move us around a little bit,” Holt said. “The key is getting rebounds, and we’ve got to take care of the ball. We have to get shots, No. 1. Our offense can’t lead to their offense. There’s no defense for 1-on-0. If we give up 13 offensive rebounds in the first half, we’re going to be down. They might not make the first shot, but if you give them a second shot they’re probably going to make it, and if you give them a third shot it’s almost 99 percent.”


ACADEMY BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

No. 11 Academy 90,

Lake Belton 79

Lake Belton 18. 19 16 26 – 79

Academy 17 17 30 26 – 90

Lake Belton (8-5) – Easton Hammond 24, Logan Flores 14, Devin Gossett 10, Javeon Wilcox 10, Peanut Brazzle 8, Leonard King 7, Chris Jarrett 5, Selman Bridges 1.

Academy (8-5) – Darion Franklin 27, Quintrell Lockett 18, Trae Rambeau 18, Cole Shackelford 17, Zane Clark 5, Grant Langfeld 3, Cooper Shackelford 2.

3-point field goals – Lake Belton 11 (Flores 4, Hammond 3, Brazzle 2, Gossett 2); Academy 12 (Franklin 4, Lockett 3, Shackelford 3, Clark 1, Langfeld 1).

Free throws – Lake Belton 12-19; Academy 8-10.

Notes – Academy wins Pool A with a 3-0 record and will host Class 4A No. 11-ranked Waco Connally in the tournament championship game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Lake Belton finishes 1-2 in Pool A and will play Grandview at 10:30 a.m.

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