By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The Belvidere Bucs have been just about everywhere you can be in the NIC-10 standings throughout the course of their boys’ basketball history. One place they have never been is the top.
That is no longer the case, as the Bucs took a 29-27 halftime lead and took off with a 13-4 run in the third quarter on their way to a 68-45 victory over second-place Rockford East to claim their first conference title, ever, on their home floor.
“It feels really good,” Belvidere senior Darius Brown said. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for our whole life. We grew up together. People underestimate us sometimes. But we’re not the underdog anymore.”
The Bucs wrapped up the conference title by clamping down on East on the defensive end. East shot 6-26 in the second half, with three baskets coming after the outcome decided.
Even more impressive was the defense on E-Rabs senior Isaiah Box. The potential conference MVP scored 10 points in the first half, hitting three 3-point shots. But the Bucs held him scoreless in the second half.
“Box had three 3’s in the first half, and we were leaving him,” Belvidere coach Aaron Pearson said. “We said we couldn’t leave a good player like that. We focused on not leaving him and rebounding the ball.”
The other key for the Bucs, in addition to the poor shooting for East, was turnovers. In the first matchup, the Bucs turned the ball over 27 times. In this game, they limited that to 17 turnovers, while East turned it over 21 times, including 12 in the second half.
Brown led the charge for Belvidere. The senior forward scored 18 points, including 8-9 from the free-throw line, and grabbed nine rebounds, including several offensive rebounds that led to putbacks.
“That’s my game plan,” Brown said. “That is my role on the team, to get the boards.”
Josh Hauser hit three big 3-point shots for 9 points, while Ian Carlson hit 4 of 5 shots in the second half on his way to 11 points and six rebounds.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Pearson said. “We told them to stay the course at halftime. We knew we missed some good shots.”
It was a wild scene for the Belvidere players and fans after the game. Cutting down the nets, the players couldn’t help to reminisce about their climb up from the basement of the conference.
“It feels awesome. I’ve dreamed about this time for so long,” Belvidere senior Kane Steger said. “My teammates are great. We all did this together. We do everything together. We wanted to go out with a bang, and we did.”
But this is only goal one for a talented Belvidere team. They have goals to make a deep tournament run and hope to be playing in a month.
“Probably today and tomorrow,” Steger said when asked how long they would celebrate Saturday’s win. “Then, back to it on Monday.”
From the Feb. 20-26, 2013, issue