Senior Jalen Bethel’s double-double led the host Olentangy Orange boys basketball team to a 71-65 victory over rival Olentangy Liberty in the OCC-Buckeye opener for both squads Friday night in Lewis Center.
Bethel had 10 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter to help the Pioneers (3-0, 1-0) hold off a furious comeback attempt by Liberty.
“(Bethel) was super committed in the weight room. He’s changed his body … no longer has the baby fat,” Orange coach Anthony Calo said. “He’s really opened up his post game – he’s a lot more skilled. I think the biggest thing is emotionally he’s grown a ton.”
Bethel and Calo cited the work in the offseason as the reason for the strong start.
“Trusting the work will help us (maximize our potential). We’ve already put in the hard work. Now we just have to perform,” Bethel said. “(Calo) just wants us to trust the work that we put in the offseason. That’s the mentality that I’ve been having.”
Orange used a 16-3 run in the third quarter to gain control and led 45-33 at the end of the frame.
Bryson Lane had 13 points, Matt McCollum had 11 and Luke Ballinger added nine, including a couple of key free throws in the final minute to help hold Liberty off late.
“We have the same names – they’re just not the same players,” Calo said. “They’re different people.”
The Patriots (0-2, 0-1) went for 32 points in the fourth, knocking down four threes in the quarter to get it as close as two on a couple of occasions down the stretch before the shots stopped falling.
“We got behind by too much there and shot (poorly),” Patriots coach Greg Nossaman said. “(Orange) played well. One positive is our kids were down 12 and they battled back and cut it to two.”
Ben Roderick finished with 26 points, Nick Nakasian had 16 and Mitchell Okuley added nine to lead Liberty, which was without post player Llwyatt Hofer because of a sprained ankle.
“They didn’t give up – they were fighters,” Nossaman said. “We’re going to stay together and keep trying to get better.”
Orange is back at it tonight when it hosts Thomas Worthington in non-league play at 7:30 p.m. Liberty is off until Thursday when it hosts Westerville South in league action at 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at [email protected]