Josh Bass put forth a career-best individual effort, but it was free throws and defense that made the difference for Harper Creek in Monday night’s Class B district opener at Pennfield High School.
The Beavers and the Comstock Colts played the first half to a tie, but Harper Creek turned up its defensive intensity in the third quarter and pulled away late, making 13-of-14 free throws in the fourth quarter.
And Bass had a monster double-double with 31 points and 21 rebounds leading his Beavers to a 64-45 victory.
The 6-foot-5 Bass dominated the paint for most of the game, exploiting a much smaller and weaker Comstock defense. The Beavers knew they had a mismatch in the paint and their game plan was to pound the ball down low.
“We wanted to play inside-out, not necessarily to me, but we knew we had some size on them and we wanted to get into the paint,” Bass said. “I was getting inside position and just relying on being bigger and stronger than the kids Comstock had and it worked out for the most part.”
Bass scored 16 in the first half, but the rest of the Beavers and the Colts were cold from the floor, and after the intermission the score was knotted at 26.
“The first half was kind of an ugly half for us,” Harper Creek head coach Matt Bowling said. “Defensively, we were losing guys and not communicating but, fortunately, we were able to pound the ball inside to Josh and get the ball inside off the dribble, so that got us through the first half.”
A heavy dose of Bass and several big stops on the defensive end that led to transition baskets in the third quarter gave the Beavers a 41-38 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
And the fourth quarter was all Harper Creek.
“Our defense improved a lot and that’s what ended up changing the game,” Bass said. “We got stops and then we’d get scores and the lead slowly started to extend.”
Alec Fisher was 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and the Beavers held Comstock to just three field goals as they outscored the Colts 23-7 in the frame.
Harper Creek’s Baylie Robinson scored 11 points and had five rebounds and Fisher scored eight points with three assists.
Comstock was led by Riley Tucker’s 18 points. Nick Keene scored 12 and Michael Hicks added 10 points.
Harper Creek takes on Marshall on Wednesday night in the district semifinals at Pennfield High School. The two Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference teams split during the regular season with Marshall winning the first contest 56-42 and the Beavers taking the second, 67-50.