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Central boys will play Jackson in district semifinal
JACKSON -- Jajuan Bell didn't miss during the first quarter.
In fact, he nearly outscored Fox on his own.
Bell delivered in the first half, then Chase Johnson took over in the second as Central defeated Fox, 67-57, in their Class 5 District 1 boys basketball opener Monday night.
Bell went 4-for-4 from the field and added a free throw for good measure to finish the first quarter with 11 points. The Warriors scored 12.
"I was just feeling it," Bell said. "I was feeling good. They were playing zone, so that's what made me hit it. I like when people play zone."
Bell doesn't run as much as he hops when he's looking to make something happen. He darted around the court on the offensive end, sometimes driving and sometimes settling for a 3-pointer. He finished the first half with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
"He's a nice player," Fox coach Christopher Wilkenson said of Bell. "We've seen guards like that before. He can really shoot it. But I thought we did a pretty good job. He made a couple tough shots on us, but what are you going to do?"
Fox changed its defensive scheme in the second half, throwing defender after defender at Bell to try to slow him down.
"We made sure he didn't get any open looks," Wilkenson said. "We tried to keep a hand in his face and make someone else beat us."
The Warriors' new strategy worked. Bell was limited to six points on 2-of-6 shooting, with a pair of free throws.
The problem for Fox was that Johnson took over offensively. In the second half, he was as hot as Bell had been in the first half. He took the ball to the basket and even tossed in a pair of 3-pointers. He scored 19 points in the second half on 7-of-10 shooting, and hit all three of his free throws.
"We just started to find open spots and just passed the ball better than the first half," Johnson said. "After we were shooting, they'd come out, and it would open up the big man game, so we were passing down into the post. We were cutting, they would give us the ball and we would put it up."
Bell recognized that the defense was collapsing on him in the second half, and knew it was time to give up the basketball.
"I've seen it all year," Bell said. "I like when teams play like that so I can get it to my teammates. I start looking for passes and open spots to penetrate and kick out."
The Tigers never trailed after the first quarter, but they couldn't put away the Warriors (11-15). Central opened a 10-point lead midway through the second quarter, but Fox scored eight straight points, capped by Alen Hadzimahovic hitting 1-of-2 free throws after the Central bench was called for a technical foul. Bell hit a 3 to stop the bleeding. The Tigers entered halftime with a four-point lead.
Central pushed the lead to 14 about midway through the third quarter on a bucket by Johnson, and the Tigers looked in control. But Fox ended the quarter on a 7-2 spurt to keep it close.
"We knew we could come back," Wilkenson said. "We've come back in games before all year. They're a tough bunch of kids."
Fox would get as close as five points with just under 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Johnson stepped up to drill a 3-pointer, and the Warriors would not get closer than eight points again.
Central's win sets up the fifth meeting between the Tigers and Jackson, the top seed in the district. The Indians have swept the four games this season, but Johnson said he expects a different results when the teams meet today at 5:30 p.m. in Jackson's old gym.
"They've been pretty close games the last few times we've been playing them, but I think we're ready for them this time," Johnson said.
Fox (57) -- Tim Roper 4, Kyle Tipton 14, Tim Kuhlman 2, Billy Pribble 15, Alen Hadzimahovic 14, Cory Dunning 9. FG 22, FT 5-9, F 19 (3-pointers: Tipton 4, Dunning 3, Pribble 1. Fouled out: Kuhlman)
Central (67) -- Jajuan Bell 25, Anthony Watts 14, Chase Johnson 23, Zack Boerboom 2, Derek Walker 2. FG 24, FT 10-18, F 10 (3-pointers: Bell 4, Watts 3, Johnson 2. Fouled out: None)