Blythewood has put the rest of the state on notice – the Bengals are as good advertised.
The preseason No. 1 in Class 4A suffered a few hiccups in December, but after a players-only meeting on Wednesday, Blythewood played its most complete game of the season in an 83-54 dismantling of Dutch Fork on Friday in the Region 4-4A opener.
It wasn’t like the Bengals had fallen off the radar. They were ranked No. 4 this week in the SCBCA poll, but the players-only meeting was needed to clear the air. Coach Zeke Washington liked the result.
“It did take me by surprise,” Washington said. “As I get older, I understand players determine a lot of their future. That was something they called themselves, and I thought it ended up being positive.”
Eli Lake came off the bench to pace the attack with 18 points. Savion Dawkins chipped in 14 and Robert Braswell added 12, which included a breakaway dunk that even had Washington jumping out of his chair.
Lake, a senior signed to play at The United States Naval Academy, was one of the players instrumental in calling the team meeting.
“We had a group meeting with all the players, and we discussed why we weren’t playing to our potential,” Lake said. “We got some things out of the way and it’s a different feeling now. Everything clicked tonight.”
If the Bengals play like they did against the Silver Foxes, especially the opening 11 minutes, they will be a tough out for any team in the state. Blythewood (13-3, 1-0) opened the game by making 17-of-27 shots, including one stretch where they scored on 11-of-12 possessions. Also aiding the run was 12 second-chance points.
“The kids were so unselfish, and when they play unselfish, a lot of good things can happen,” Washington said. “I’m just so proud of them. They played for each other, and if we do that, then good things can happen.”
It was a 12-6 Bengals lead with a little under three minutes remaining in the first quarter when Blythewood erupted. Lake hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start, and by the time Khalil Shakir-Harris made two free throws with five minutes remaining in the half, the run was 28-10 and the lead had ballooned to 40-16.
“I think at the beginning of the year, we were playing very good and right now we’re playing like we feel like we can,” Lake said. “The difference is we’re practicing a lot harder. Our intensity has picked up, and I think that showed in the first half.”
Washington thinks he can pinpoint the turnaround to a 43-point loss to nationally ranked Oak Hill at the Chick-fil-A Classic in December.
“It was a humbling experience,” Washington said of the setback. “In the first half, we played together and played hard and it showed we have a chance to compete with anybody. That second half, we didn’t play as together as we need to. I think that taught us we can do good things if we play together.”
Dutch Fork (7-5, 0-1) has lost five of its last six contests. Jordan Davis paced the Silver Foxes with 22 points, but no other player had more than six points.
B: Eli Lake 18, Savion Dawkins 14, Robert Braswell 12, Matthews 9, Bowers 8, Shakir-Harris 6, Churn 6, Johnson 4, Hammond 4, Bailey 2. DF: Jordan Davis 22, Dean 6, Irby 6, Dunbar 6, Cannon 3, Vernau 3, Glover 2, Levine 2, Hancock 2, Warlick 2.
Blythewood 55, Dutch Fork 42
Lauren Harley scored 27 points, including 10 points in the decisive fourth quarter, to give Blythewood a 55-42 victory in the region opener.
The Bengals (4-10, 1-0) had a 38-35 lead entering the final quarter and opened things with a 10-2 run to take control. The lead was never less than double-digits after that.
Olivia Anderson finished with 12 points to lead Dutch Fork (2-9, 0-1).
B: Lauren Harley 27, Rickard 9, Gallman 8, Green 7, Weeks 2, Jackson 2. DF: Olivia Anderson 12, Madison Golden 11, Jones 6, Sanders 5, Dean 3, Mills 3, Murphy 2.