The Bulloch Academy Gators are used to playing an uptempo, run-and-gun style brand of basketball. But Thursday night, they were just a step slower than the Bethesda Blazers.
It was a battle of GISA Region 4-AAA unbeatens and the Blazers took the first game in the home-and-away series with a 73-60 victory.
The 2010 GISA Class A state runners-up moved up in classification to Class AAA this year and the boys from Savannah seemed to rise to the occasion.
Ben Carter notched 18 points, Hakeem Coney had 17, Brendan Carter added 15 and David Thomas contributed 10 to lead the Blazers to the victory. Bethesda (8-7 overall and 4-0 in the region) led by as much as 23 in the fourth quarter.
The Gators (10-4, 3-1) knew the game was going to be fast and physical so they came out in a spread offense. This helped neutralize, for a time, the speed and quickness of the Blazers.
Zach Altany, who had 19 on the night, zipped the net from beyond the arc for a 3-0 lead early in the opening quarter. A Walker Blitch trey gave the Gators a 6-5 lead at the 6:40 mark.
That was the last time Bulloch would have the advantage as the Gators saw their four-game winning streak come to an end.
Bethesda’s 2-3 zone, with big Alonzo McKinney in the middle, kept the Gators out of the lane in the first quarter. Bulloch also was cold from the field and could only get one, maybe two shots on the offensive side because of the remarkable rebounding abilities of the Blazers.
Coney pumped in a trey at the 5:05 mark of the first quarter for a 10-6 Blazer lead. It was off to the races for Bethesda. By the first-quarter buzzer, BDS took a 23-12 advantage. Ben Carter led with 10 points while Brendan Carter had eight. Altany countered with five.
The Gators didn’t lose much ground in the second quarter, keeping pace with the speedsters. Bulloch took the ball to the paint and got into early one-and-one situations. Jaylen Evans canned four free throws to lead BA. On the night, Evans was 12-of-14 from the line and had 19 points.
At the half, Bethesda took a 37-23 lead.
After a halftime rest, Bulloch’s players took the fight straight to Bethesda. There were early successes as Altany netted 10 points and BA’s aggressiveness put the Blazers in foul trouble. But the quick-handed Blazers created steals and turnovers which turned into coast-to-coast layups. Coney’s steal, drive and layup at the 5:02 mark of the third put Bethesda up by 20, 49-29. A jam by Thomas with 4:13 left didn’t help matters.
Still, the Gators never quit and battled tooth-and-nail with the Savannah squad until the final buzzer.
Bulloch tries to get back on the winning track Friday, taking a trip to Augusta to face region foe Westminster.
In an earlier game, Bethesda’s B-team boys beat Bulloch 36-27. Ben Carico led the Gators with 10 while Bailey Smith added seven.
In the early afternoon games, BA’s middle-school squads played teams from Frederica Academy.
The Gator girls ran their record to 10-0 with a 30-18 victory over the Lady Knights. Ashley Burke paced Bulloch with 14 points and Page Spence added six while Pate Lomax had five.
The Gator guys (8-2) whipped Frederica 41-28. Smith Reeves netted 17 while Will Marsh had 10.
In C-team boys’ action, Frederica nipped Bulloch 21-16. Brett Thomas led the Gators with eight.