Wells, Baker lead Belpre past Caldwell, 71-67
BELPRE — It was Evan Wells’ two 3-pointers early that got Belpre going, and it was his four free throws down the stretch that helped secure a 71-67 victory over Caldwell Tuesday.
Wells, a senior, finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists to lead the Golden Eagles to their third straight victory.
“Talking about mental toughness, he’s a mentally tough kid,” said Belpre head coach Tyler Leasure. “He knows the game of basketball. He’s so smart. Hitting those two shots early were big for him to kind of get him going. I know he really wasn’t feeling himself from the free throw line, but we told him when he went to the line, ‘Nobody better.’ He believed in himself and knocked those shots down.”
Connor Baker led Belpre (6-6) with 21 points to go along with four assists. Ashton Yeater added 11 points while Jordan Harrington chipped in eight points and six boards.
Caldwell (5-5) got a game-high 24 points from Jett Lori, plus 18 more from Bede Lori. Both Loris dished out four assists, while Braxton Dudley tallied 10 points. Whyatt Parks chipped in seven points, Matt Kowalsky had six points before fouling out and Lucas King notched four steals.
“They’re phenomenal players, both of them, and kudos to them for their performance,” Leasure said of the Loris. “We just really emphasized team defense. We didn’t want to put anybody in particular specifically on any assignment like that. We just wanted to make sure we were working together as a team. I think the guys stepped up.”
The game went back and fourth — there were seven lead changes in the first half — until a 16-0 run by Belpre in the third quarter turned a 28-24 Caldwell lead into a 40-28 Caldwell deficit.
“I thought they played harder than us,” said Caldwell head coach Clint Crane. “I thought they were tougher than we were, especially in the third quarter. Give them credit. Every 50-50 ball they went and got. Every shot that went up they crashed the boards and they got several offensive rebounds. We weren’t strong with the ball on the other end. One of those nights.”
Back-to-back deep 3s by Wells, both assisted by Baker, put Belpre up 9-4 early. Bede Lori then scored eight straight points to give Belpre the lead before a Baker jumper tied it. Jett Lori’s 3-pointer closed the opening period with Caldwell in front 14-11.
Two free-throws by Kowalsky to open the second quarter put Caldwell up five, its largest lead of the game, but Belpre scored five unanswered capped by Brady Shriver’s free throw to tie it at 16-all.
Still tied at 20-20 after Tucker Liston assisted Tyce Church on a layup, Belpre momentarily took the lead when Kowalsky was called for goaltending on Harrington’s layup. Jett Lori put Caldwell back in front with a trey, but Baker closed the half with a drive to the basket to Belpre up 24-23 at the break.
The game could have gotten away from Golden Eagles to start the third quarter when Jett Lori made another 3 and Dudley’s layup made it 28-24, Caldwell. However, Belpre answered with 16 straight points, eight of those coming from Baker on a layup and two triples.
“They just were not going to lose,” Leasure said. “Our guys were just determined to win this basketball game. They did everything they had to do.”
After Jett Lori’s layup briefly stopped the bleeding, Dylan Cox’s free throw and Wells’ basket gave Belpre its largest lead of the game at 13, 43-30.
Bede Lori ended the quarter with a made jumper to make the score 45-34 with eight minutes to play.
Caldwell wasn’t fazed by the double-digit deficit and made a furious rally attempt. Jett Lori drained two quick 3s to open the quarter to get the Redskins within six, 46-40.
Then, things got too close for comfort for the Golden Eagles when Parks drained a corner 3 and was fouled, converting the foul shot for a four-point play to make it 48-46 with 5:22 left in the game. Dudley’s ensuing basket tied the game, but Wells responded with a layup that ended up giving Belpre the lead for good.
A Baker drive and a Wells 3 gave the Eagles some breathing room. Caldwell kept chipping away, but couldn’t get closer than within four as Belpre made 13 of 14 free throw attempts in the final 2:17 of regulation, including four big ones from Wells, who previously was 0 for 3 at the line in the game.
“The last couple games I’ve been pretty bad from the free throw line,” Wells said. “Coaches just told me to let it go and they happened to go in.”
As things got hairy down the stretch, Leasure told his squad, “‘This is what we’ve been preparing for. We’ve been ready for this for a long time. We’ve just got to go out and execute.’ And they took it from there.”
On the subject of good free throw shooting, Caldwell’s Bede Lori went 4 for 4 from the stripe to extend his streak to 62 straight made free throws. The state’s all-time record is 68 consecutive makes from the line.
“He’s just a tough kid,” Crane said. “He works at it. He’s a really good player, great student, great teammate. He deserves any of those honors he gets because he puts in the work.”
Belpre will look to win its fourth straight game Friday at Waterford.
“We’ve got three wins in a row, which is big for us,” Leasure said. “We’re back to .500. I think sometimes when you get below .500 guys think the ship is going down a little bit, and they want to get off. But we’ve really got a tight-nit team right now.”
Added Wells, “Feels good to pick up a win against a good team.”
Jordan Holland can be reached at email@example.com.