Battle Creek Central, with its long tradition of excellence, is often a program teams will measure themselves against.
Harper Creek did that on Monday and came out looking pretty good.
Harper Creek defeated Battle Creek Central, 73-61, in this non-conference boys’ basketball game at Harper Creek as the Beavers go to 3-0 on the season
“That is a big measuring stick for us. It doesn’t matter how young Battle Creek Central is, that’s a good ball club there and Greg (Williams) does a great job with them. You don’t just have to beat the Battle Creek Central team, you have to beat the Battle Creek Central program and that what we did, so that’s a big win,” Harper Creek coach Matt Bowling said.
Battle Creek Central did lose nine players to graduation off of last year’s Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division championship team. At the same time, the Bearcats did put a young team on the floor against a Harper Creek team that returns all five starters. BCC coach Greg Williams said you could tell the difference in experience nearly every time up the court.
“We played a veteran team out there and that showed out there. That was experience versus youth out there tonight,” Williams said. “When you are a veteran team you play with so much confidence and you saw that with Harper Creek.”
Khylen Watkins of Harper Creek brings the ball down court against Battle Creek Central.
The Beavers, who want to push the ball at every opportunity, were able to play their game throughout and that led to good looks and layups as Harper Creek shot 44-percent from the floor in the first half and an impressive 50-percent in the second half.
“We are going to play the way we play and we aren’t going to adjust that no matter who we play. That’s who we are, that’s our strength,” Bowling said. “We have to stay to our strength. But the key to that tonight was how we defensive rebounded, which keyed a lot of runouts for us tonight and keyed a lot of baskets.”
The back-and-forth action was even much of the first half, but Harper Creek edged out just enough right before intermission to lead 31-24 at halftime after James Cadena hit a putback at the second quarter buzzer.
The Beavers used that momentum to start the second half when Khylen Watkins hit a 3-pointer off a set play to start the third quarter, giving the home team its first double-digit lead at 34-24. Harper Creek extended that lead with a another 3-pointer by Watkins with 1:03 left in the quarter to give the Beavers a 52-38 lead.
Both long-range shots came off extra passes from Harper Creek with the BCC defense allowing the open looks.
“We are a still growing as a team. I liked a lot of good things from us about tonight, but we also made a lot of mistakes out there that a veteran team doesn’t make,” Williams said. “I also liked how we kept working and made the game close at the end. That’s something we can build on going forward.”
The Bearcats would rally in the fourth quarter and pulled to within 60-54 after a 3-pointer by Wendell White with 3:43 remaining in regulation.
White led BCC with 14 points, six rebounds and five assists with Juan Warren also getting 14 points and 12 rebounds as Ahmed McKinney chiped in with nine points and nine rebounds as the Bearcats fell to 0-3.
However, Harper Creek responded as TraVon Johnson chased down a loose ball near midcourt, slamming into the scorer’s table as he flipped back inbounds to Watkins. Johnson continued up the court and then Watkins found him for a layup to make it 66-56 with 1:58 after the highlight reel play.
“That’s a great energy play that picked us up, that kept us going. Those two kids have a little two-man game going most of the time where they know what each other wants to do,” Bowling said. “It seemed like when we needed a big shot, we hit one tonight to keep momentum our way.”
Watkins led Harper Creek with 23 points and five assists as the Beavers had four players in double-figures and their fifth starter Jack Thompson with double-digit rebounds. Johnson had 15 points, six assists and six rebounds with Cadena adding 14 points and six rebounds and four assists while Brandon Hutson chipped in 10 points and six rebounds. Thompson had 13 rebounds to go with five points.
“Jack Thompson may not have had the most points tonight, but that kid did 8,000 things tonight that helped us win that won’t show up in the scorebook – boxing out, rebounding, showing, helping, outletting the basketball, passing – I’m proud of him,” Bowling said.