Despite 35 points and double digits rebounds from senior center Adam Kleckner and a late run led by fellow senior Ben Lazenby, the Belmont High School Boys Basketball could not recover from a “lousy” first quarter and suffered its first defeat of the season to undefeated Billerica High, 66-60, at Wenner Field House on Monday afternoon, Dec. 29.
While a combination of weak team shooting and ragged defensive execution were glaring inefficiencies on the court, two prime reasons for the loss by the Marauders was sitting on the bench. All-star junior shooting guard Matt Kerans had his left hand heavily wrapped in a bandage (obtained in the team’s impressive, come-from-behind victory over hosts Cathedral in Boston on Saturday) and co-6th man junior Cole Bartels sidelined with a viral illness.
“[Kerans] is one of the best players around so clearly we are a different team without him,” said Belmont Head Coach Adam Pritchard. Kearns has been a consistent points producer with the ability to drive to the basket or hit from distance while Bartels has become the most reliable three-point scorer when he’s on the floor.
In addition, Belmont was up against Billerica, undefeated and projected to challenge for the Merrimack Valley League title.
While he bemoaned the lack of offense punch, Pritchard pointed to the continued breakdown of the team’s defensive schemes by a quick, athletic Indians’ team as Billerica was adept at scoring from a number of offensive plays whether it was off the dribble/drive, off the screen or one-on-one under the basket.
“[Defense] is a team thing,” said Pritchard. If an opponent “gets by one of us or we don’t box out, then we’re a poor team,” said Pritchard.
Those defensive liabilities came to the fore in the game’s first eight minutes as the Indians rocketed to a 10-3 lead midway through the quarter. Led by senior guard Brad Fisher and 6-foot, 6-inch junior center Josh Bradanese, who battled Kleckner both inside and beyond the arc, each Indian starter scored including three three-point baskets, to take a 19-10 lead with Kleckner scoring eight points (going along with rebounds and a power block on Bradanese) with only senior guard/forward Seth Altman (2 points) scoring in the quarter.
Belmont finally found its footing in the second and behind Lazenby (13 points) who hit a three and Kleckner’s defensive stance (with another block and a steal along with nine points in the quarter) cut the lead to four points (26-22) on a junior Joe Shaughnessy layup.
But Billerica took advantage of the porous Marauder defense to end the half on an 11-2 streak to go into the half up 37-24.
Lazenby took charge in the third quarter with seven points and setting up Kleckner and senior forward Justin Wagner (4 points) but the lead stayed in double figures.
Despite 14 points in the fourth (in which his dominate play caused Bradanese to foul out), Kleckner could not bring the team back from the earlier deficit.
“We want to play teams like Billerica because they are good so we can get better,” said Pritchard.