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As a late-season test before the district tournament, Bronson's home finale against Williston was a great workout for both teams.
"I feel better now," said Williston head coach Dave Vespignani, following the Red Devils' 64-48 win over the Eagles.
The Devils had been shocked the night before when a Trinity Catholic team that was in no way their superior beat them badly.
Eagles head coach Kelly Beckham had also been waiting to see which Williston team emerged after that Trinity game.
"If we play this team 10 times, we'd win three or four," he said. "But they played very well tonight."
So did Bronson, especially at first. They leaped out to a 6-0 lead, set off by a pair of three-pointers from James Rivers. The Eagles opened up in a zone, forcing Williston outside, and hammering the defensive boards.
Kelby Barber's rebounding kept Bronson ahead early, as did a three-point play by Terrance Dukes, but at 12-6, the Devils' outside shots began to fall. Two threes by Kelcey Coleman and one by Devin Timmons slashed the Eagles' lead, and after the first period, Williston overturned the score to lead 15-14.
Vespignani said after the opening shooting drought he had encouraged his team to drive more aggressively. As the second quarter opened, Tony James and J.J. Hunt attacked the boards, each finishing a teammate's missed shot. Williston went on a 10-point run, paused only when Barber finished a rebound and was fouled, then made the free throw for Bronson's first second-quarter points.
The Eagles got active again, going strong to the basket and getting to the line and torquing down the man defense. They effectively shut down Williston from the field, and had moderate success from the line to return the score to 29-23 Devils going into the half.
Bronson came out with a fire on in the second half, setting an uptempo pace and racking up some quick points to cut the lead to one. C.J. King took a layup in for a bucket, and Jermey Mayes backed into the lane for another. Rivers was fouled shooting the three and made two of three free throws.
At 31-30, though, Williston again went on a tear, as Deonte Welch led the Devils into the paint. Williston scored on four straight trips and, as Bronson tightened up the pressure, started going to the line as well. Virgil Greenlee scored for the Eagles off a steal, but Williston pushed up a 10-point lead going into the fourth.
The Eagles surged again in the fourth quarter, but Williston was far ahead. A basket and a free throw from Rodolfo Contreras trimmed the Devils' lead to seven, but Isaac Floyd went to the line and shot the lead back to nine.
Barber went up the middle to cut the lead again, but Coleman answered for Williston.
In the fourth quarter, as in other fourth quarters, Bronson saw their best free throw shooting. They went 8 of 11 from the stripe, including 4-of-4 from Barber, but simply couldn't get the volume of shots they needed. Barber's last three-point play again sliced the lead to seven, but Williston exploded one last time, this time led by Welch's breakaway dunk.
Despite the disappointment of the loss, Beckham said he was pleased with his team's play on the night, as well as what that means for districts.
"There's nobody in our district as good as Williston or Newberry (last Tuesday's opponent), and we played both those teams tough," he said. "We lost by double digits both times, but those were both eight or nine point games before we started fouling."
Boys' district tournaments start this week. At presstime, Bronson will already have played Branford Tuesday and hope to be playing Oak Hall Friday for a chance at either Hawthorne or Mayo in the final on Saturday. Williston won a first round bye and will play the winner of Newberry-Chiefland on Friday, a game Vespignani is looking forward to.
"We've played Newberry twice and split with them," he said. "When they're shooting well, they're very, very good."