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BETHESDA – Bullis High School boys basketball team kept the lead throughout the game, saved for a single moment when they were tied – keeping Landon High School out of reach, for a 76-62 win on the night of Feb. 8.
Freshman guard Rodney Rice completed a 13-point fourth-quarter performance, ending any hopes of a Landon comeback and pushing Bullis forward for the victory.
“We got to the line early, we got them on the one-on-one, so we were just trying to keep attacking and get to the free-throw line,” said Rice.
It wasn’t a dominant performance from the Bulldogs (13-10), even though the first quarter showed otherwise. Landon were quick to adapt, as their porous offense was patched up and replaced with a high-pressure zone defense as the game progressed.
But that tougher defense came too little too late, and could not make up for a poor first-half performance. Even though Landon (15-9) managed to narrow the margin later in the game, their mistakes early on could have made the difference between winning and losing.
A rough first quarter for the Bears meant it was a great quarter for the Bulldogs, as Bullis started off on an eight-point streak. Landon had no response to the repeated assault, as their defense was too fragmented and spread out, giving the Bulldogs ample space and time to shoot.
Part of the Bullis’ fortune was the Bears’ misfortune as they collected several rebounds off missed shots and turned them into breakaways for easy buckets.
Senior guard Nendah Tarke was an opportunistic shooter early on, scoring 14 of his 20 points points in the first half and cutting through the defense when it was possible to score. Tarke made four-of-seven free throws in the second quarter – a foreshadowing of how the Bulldogs’ accuracy from the line and the Bears’ tendency to foul were going to be an issue for one team and a blessing for the other.
If Tarke was the star for Bullis in the first half, then Rice stole the spotlight in the second. His game-high 23 points helped bury the Bears while his scoreline was complemented by his accuracy at connecting three 3-pointers.
“He’s been thrust into that role because we have two guards who have ACL injuries,” said Bulldogs head coach Bruce Kelley, who praised Rice’s performance. “Everything has been thrown at him; he loves to compete. He knew he was going up against some good guards, so he was going to give us his best performance. That’s who he is – he’s a good ballplayer, and he competes to win.”
Landon did fight back at the start of the third quarter. Early on, down by six points, with the score at 34-28, the Bears scored eight consecutive points put them back in the game. Sophomore Kino Lilly had three of the points in the streak, and five in the quarter, to help close the gap with the Bulldogs.
This was the Bears’ closest chance to get the lead, a task that involved suppressing the Bulldogs’ offense and making sure that their defense was flawless.
For the rest of the third quarter, the Bears kept it close, trailing by a few points, just enough to make sure that the slightest turn of events in their favor could nab them the elusive lead they hadn’t been able to get.
However, try as they did, Landon could not keep up with the tit-for-tat game the Bulldogs were playing. At one point, Bears’ senior forward Dane Camphausen drained a shot while getting fouled, earning a 3-point play opportunity but it was quickly matched by Bullis junior guard Malcolm Alexander. Camphausen made another free throw, and the Bulldogs responded with a five-point run.
The Bulldogs knew then they had to put down the Bears, starting off the final quarter with a 3-pointer from Rice.
A technical foul was called on Landon and the freshman sank three-of-four free-throw shots, finishing the quarter connecting five-of-eight from the charity stripe. A jumper from senior guard Alex Caldeira late in the game provided enough for Bullis to earn the victory.