Indians Begin Brutal Stretch of February Boys Hoops Slate with Win vs. Lincoln, Big Loss to Polar Bears

By Jeff Toquinto on February 09, 2018 via

February is a brutal month for many. For the Bridgeport basketball team, it’s not just the weather.
The 28-days on the calendar has the Indians with two games against Class AA No. 1 Fairmont Senior, previous Class AAA No. 1 University, a visit to Robert C. Byrd and a whole lot of additional roadblocks on what BHS Coach Mike Robey hopes is a season the team can return to Charleston.
Add to that five of Bridgeport's seven games for the month are on the road.
This past week, the Indians went 1-1. The Tribe was hammered by the Polar Bears in a home game by a 91-47 score, but rebounded Wednesday to topple Lincoln on the road by a 57-42 score.
On Saturday, things didn’t go too well for the Indians against the Polar Bears. The afternoon game, rescheduled from last Friday due to weather, was only close for about eight minutes.
After that, Fairmont Senior did what they’ve done to every team they’ve faced this year. And that was to put a beating on the Indians.
Heading into the game, Robey said if his team was to have any chance it was going to have to take it directly at the Polar Bears and hope that their foe would go cold and the Indians would take advantage of any situation. For most of the first quarter, the strategy worked.
“In the first quarter we executed and decided not be passive and attack. We wanted to get to the rim, which we did,” said Robey. “They weren’t shooting particularly well, either, but you knew that would change and it did. When we did make them pay by attacking, we didn’t finish it off.
“You can’t go 3-for-12 from the foul line in a half against many teams and expect to win, let alone Fairmont Senior,” Robey continued. “We dug us a hole and they had absolutely no problem making it deeper.”
Bridgeport was in the game at 11-11 late in the first and even had a shot to take the lead. Instead, the Tribe settled for a 15-11 deficit after one. Then, the proverbial roof caved in on the Tribe.
In the blink of an eye, Bridgeport went from being down four points to being down 30 at 45-15 at halftime. The Bears would lead by more than 50 in the game as it was never close after the first eight minutes of action.
“I’ve seen them play a bunch and they did to us what they’ve done in every single game. They are, in my opinion, the best team in the state in any class. They make plays, they’re big, long and athletic and when they hit shots from outside there’s nothing you can do,” Robey said. “Even when they missed there were times we had them perfectly blocked out and a kid just goes up and tips it right over you. For someone to beat them this year is going to take a perfect game.”
Nick Stalnaker was the only player in double figures with 10 points. Brayden Lesher and Adam Bentz both finished with eight.
Against Lincoln, Bridgeport was able to jump out to leads after the first and second quarters before taking control of the game in the third. The Indians led 9-4 after one period and were up by one – 17-16 – at the intermission.
Whatever Robey said to his team about their lethargic offense at halftime worked. The Indians scored more points in the third frame than they did the entire first half. In fact, by the time the third period ended, Bridgeport was up 36-25 after closing the segment on a 15-4 run and would eventually add to it in the fourth.
“The entire first half we’re making one and two passes and settling for threes. We’ve got to get inside touches whether it’s a shot or not because you have to work inside out,” said Robey. “They packed into a zone and begged us to shoot deep and we did exactly what they wanted.
“At halftime, we made sure that we got those touches in the post starting in the second half,” Robey continued. “We didn’t score everything from the inside, but we got some easy buckets, moved the ball better and it opened up better looks from the outside.”
While it took the offense two quarters to get going, there was one consistent throughout – Bridgeport’s defense. Incredibly, the Tribe forced 25 turnovers in the contest and never let Lincoln get into a rhythm offensively. The strong defense allowed Bridgeport to overcome its own first half shooting woes.
“Defensively we played really well. I was happy with our defense,” said Robey. “That’s what we preach to the kids because there are always night you won’t be shooting well, but if you play solid enough defense it will usually keep you hanging around and give you a chance to win.”
While Robey said he was hoping for a scrappy effort as it was the Cougars that knocked the Tribe out of the postseason last year, he said he knows the effort has to be there every night regardless of the situation or the foe.
“Our mindset has to be to play good defense no matter who is in front of us and I’d like to think that we should always play with a chip on our shoulder,” said Robey. “We did mention them knocking us out last year, but I would hope we would play that hard on defense no matter what.”
The Indians did find enough offense in the game with Lesher leading the way. He finished with 21 points, while Stalnaker added 14 points. Tanner Bifano just missed double figures with eight points, while grabbing a team-high eight rebounds. Lesher also had seven of his team’s impressive total of 17 steals.
Bridgeport is back in action tonight with a trip to Morgantown to take on University. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. The Tribe will play Monday at East Fairmont and complete a four-game road trip with a visit to Robert C. Byrd. All games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Brayden Lesher driving againt Fairmont's Dante Stills, while Nick Stalnaker fights for position against Lincoln in the second photo. The BHS team huddles up trying to stop a surging Polar Bear squad in the third photo, while defensive specialist Jacob Perine gets ready to do his job against the Cougars in the bottom photo. Photos are by Joey Signorelli of

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