(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
BELL CITY - The Dexter Bearcats basketball team clinched their fifth straight Stoddard County Conference championship with an impressive 87-68 win on the road Tuesday at Bell City.
In a game played at a furious pace, the Bearcats simply had too many weapons for the Cubs to guard.
In the Bearcats' 77-68 win against Bell City two weeks ago in the conference tournament, it was 6-5 center Derek Demaree with the big game, scoring 37 points.
This time it was senior guard Preston Clark, who pumped in 30 points in the game to go with six rebounds and four assists.
"Preston had a great game," said Dexter head coach Eric Sitze. "He was hitting the seams against the man and he was hitting that jumpshot. You could see it in his eyes, he was fearless tonight."
Bell City (18-4, 6-1 SCAA) made a conscious effort to try to contain Demaree in Tuesday's matchup and they were successful somewhat, holding him to 17 points with six rebounds.
"I thought they paid a lot of attention to him and kept him out of the lane as much as possible," said Sitze. "He was kind of a surprise to them the first time. This time they concentrated on something else and we hurt them with the other part of our team."
But while Demaree was contained, it was Clark's performance that left Bell City head coach David Heeb pondering what had just happened.
"I thought Preston Clark was the best player in the gym tonight," said Heeb. "I've been watching Dominitrix (Johnson) play since he was 9-years-old and I told him in there that he really got out-played by a kid tonight that I think (he) is better than."
Johnson, a returning all-stater, managed 16 points with four rebounds and three assists, but he spent much of the second half on the bench in foul trouble.
Dexter (17-3, 7-0 SCAA) also got another solid outing out of point guard Chris Hyten, who scored 13 points with nine assists and three steals, including two in a row in the waning moments of the second quarter which set the tempo of the rest of the game.
"Maybe I should've called a timeout, but there was only 25 seconds left," said Heeb. "I thought we'd just get the ball and have the last shot. They stole it about four times in 25 seconds. That's probably the worst job we've done all year of taking care of the ball, but you've got to give Dexter credit for that."
Hyten's defense was the culmination of a quarter-ending 15-0 run to give the Bearcats a 45-33 halftime edge.
It was the one run the Bearcats needed as Bell City never got closer than four the rest of the way.
"We got out in the passing lanes and kind of surprised them," said Sitze. "I think they got used to us sitting back and waiting on them and we just kind of jumped on them at the end of the second quarter. That gave us some momentum going into the first part of the third quarter."
Up to that point, the game was a see-saw matchup.
The Cubs controlled most of the first quarter, leading by as much as 16-9.
A minute later, Bell City took a 20-14 lead only to see Dexter end the quarter on an 8-0 run capped by Josh Miller's 3-pointer from the right corner with four seconds left to lead 22-20.
The Cubs didn't seem fazed as the led for most of the second quarter, taking a six-point lead at one juncture, but the Bearcats' strong finish to the quarter wiped the lead out.
Dexter seemed on the verge of blowing the game open in the third quarter, leading by as much as 16 when Clark scored a basket with 5:30 left in the period to lead 55-39.
But the Cubs' Kenyon Wright caught fire, draining three of his five 3-pointers in matter of three minutes to help cut into the lead.
An Eric Henry basket with less than a minute left in the quarter cut the lead to 62-58, but once again Dexter responded with a basket at the end of the quarter, this time by Willie Dooley, to open up a 64-58 advantage.
The fourth quarter belonged to the Bearcats.
A Henry 3-pointer early in the quarter cut the lead to 68-61 but that was as close as they would get.
The Cubs still had a chance as Johnson scored on a drive to make it 77-68 with 3:27 remaining, but the Bearcats ended the game on a 10-0 run.
The final score marked the biggest margin of the game.
Even with the lead in the fourth quarter, Sitze was leery of the Cubs' outside shooting ability.
"The way they hit the 3-pointers the last game, I told the assistants over there, 'this thing isn't over yet. We've got to get a few more stops,'" said Sitze. "They're a tough 3-point shooting team."
Bell City hit 11 3-pointers in the game, but the Bearcats made eight from beyond the arc themselves.
"The last four games I think we're giving up an average of 80 points per game," said Heeb. "It's a good thing we're averaging 88 a game, or we wouldn't be winning them. We probably lead the state in scoring but we're last in defense right now. If our guys guarding the wings don't do a better job, then we've got about two weeks of basketball left."
Henry led Bell City with 23 points to go with his 10 rebounds and three assists. The two time all-stater is 13 points shy of reaching 2,000 in his career.
Wright finished with 17 points.
For Dexter, Dooley had 10 points with six rebounds, three steals and three assists.
The Bearcats will host Kennett on Friday at 6 p.m.
Bell City will host Risco for its homecoming on Friday night at 6 p.m.
Dexter defeated Bell City in the junior varsity contest 74-35.