The Bears made their free throws when they mattered the most.
Despite making 8-of-21 free throws in the first half, Bunker Hill connected on 8 of 12 attempts in the fourth quarter to pick up the Catawba Valley 2A win over Bandys.
“We struggled tonight,” said Bunker Hill coach Matt Wilkinson. “Free throw shooting has really been one of our strengths this year. I felt like we have won several ball games because of our consistency at the free throw line. I think part of that concentration. I felt like we had a lack of concentration all night long.”
6-foot-5-inch Bunker Hill forward Walker Mehl was the spark for his team in the first quarter, as he pulled down many rebounds and scored six points. It was a 14-9 lead for the Bears at the end of the first.
Helping to combat his size was post player Travis McCorkle, who powered his way to six of his team’s seven points in the second quarter. He was also able to get Mehl in early foul trouble.
“We knew coming in they were big,” said Bandys head coach Brad Gabriel. “That scared me a little bit. I haven’t been able to play Travis a lot because the teams we have played lately are all guards. Bunker Hill has a big team. Travis came in and beat and banged. I am proud of him.”
The Bears (9-7, 3-3) countered by playing aggressively and went to the foul line 21 times. However, they only made eight of those attempts.
Bandys (0-13, 0-4) had only attempted seven free throws though and made three of those.
That changed in the second half, as the Trojans clawed to get back into the game. Bandys went 9-for-11 with their free throw attempts, keep post players Mehl and Taylor Simmons in foul trouble and hold their opponents to just eight points in the quarter.
“We weren’t executing offensively,” Wilkinson said. “We were making mental mistakes defensively. The credit is to Bandys. They came out and played hard. In a rivalry game, a lot of things can happen.
A big blow for Bandys came with 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter. McCorkle fouled out and that opened the door for Bunker Hill to re-establish their dominance in the paint.
Bandys continued to fight. After a long 2-pointer by Bandys #21 and a free throw by #31, the lead was down to 39-36.
The post presense for Bunker Hill vanished, as Mehl fouled out with 2:41 remaining and Simmons left the game with an injury after diving for the ball. Mehl finished with 16 points in the game.
Free throws, which had been the achilles heel for Bunker Hill, actually aided the Bears in the end. The team was clutch in the fourth quarter, as they went 8-for-12 from the line.
Bandys fought to get baskets and get to the lead, but just could not catch up.
The Bears’ lead swelled to double-digits as the clock winded down to zero.
“Saturday may have been our best game of the year against West Caldwell,” Wilkinson said. “We played well against Newton-Conover a week ago. We felt like we had the ball rolling. For whatever reason tonight, we came in with a lack of focus and a lack of intensity. We got lucky to get out of here with a win tonight.”
While Wilkinson was disappointed in victory, Gabriel was extremely proud of his team despite the loss.
“The effort is there,” Gabriel said. “We played hard. I told people this isn’t an 0-14 team. It seems like when we come to practice, we are a 14-0 team with the effort that they give. Turnovers are killing us right now. That comes with inexperience. We will get there. We are going to still play hard and do what we do.”