Bengals win big despite Covid-affected lineup

BLYTHEWOOD – The Blythewood boys basketball team played a range of tough teams over the holiday break.

In the Lemon Street Classic in Americus, Ga., Dec. 18-21, the Bengals played three Georgia teams: Sumter (Americus), Salem (Conyers) and East Coweta (Sharpsburg). At the Chick Fil-A Classic played at River Bluff Dec. 27-28, they played Charlotte, N.C. teams Charlotte Christian and Olympic.

They lost all five games. Blythewood’s largest margin was a 62-46 loss to Salem Dec. 20. And a 54-43 loss to Sumter two days prior. The other three losses were by five points or less.

So when White Knoll got into town to open the Bengals’ 2022 half of the season Tuesday night, Blythewood was itching for a win.

Unfortunately, most of the starting lineup—and in fact most of the team—was out because of COVID.

“We were debating on whether we were going to play or not,” head coach Zeke Washington said. “We went through practice yesterday and I told (White Knoll head coach Darrick Cureton) ‘I’ll call you in the morning,’ because if we looked that bad at practice we weren’t going to do it. But I could tell that they wanted to play, and I was glad to see them play against varsity players.”

The team’s only varsity starter to play Tuesday night, Randy Kelly, eliminated all doubt. Kelly stayed under and around the net Tuesday night and delivered 27 points in dunks, layups and putbacks in Blythewood’s 66-37 victory over the Timberwolves.

“We’ve been losing so much, I forgot how that felt,” Washington said after coming off the court with the win. “It feels good no matter who was playing.”

Caleb Gore, another varsity player, scored 14 points.

Besides Kelly and Gore, will Olden, Dashaun Rogers, Cameron Turner, and Jaylin Ricks were the only other varsity players.

Junior varsity players Deangelo Brooks, Jayden Guess, Kishan Chung, Lamont Jackson, Tray Mazyck, T.J. Lewis, Omari Hendrix, Zavier Washington, Anthony Thurman, and Cameron Howze filled out Tuesday night’s Bengals roster, and with those additions Blythewood (6-8) didn’t skip a beat against White Knoll (3-13).

“None of the (jersey) numbers matched up tonight,” Washington said. “We sent the JV guys up, and it got to be a win-win situation, because they got a chance to play and win a varsity game. We were happy to have that.”

The younger Bengals gave the team a lift in speed in transition, snatching up loose balls off the glass and making steals that thwarted White Knoll possessions. The Timberwolves turned the ball over 40 times in the game.

While the Bengals snatched basketballs, teammates eventually passed them to Kelly, a noted track and field high jumper who stayed consistently under the net. The Timberwolves had no answer for him.

“Use your athleticism. He’s the best high jumper in the country,” Washington said of Kelly, who most recently posted a 6-feet, 8.75 inch high jump in the 2021 USATF South Carolina Association Youth Track and Field Championships last June. “He’s got a couple of offers (from colleges) and he’ll make a decision soon.”

Looking at how the younger Bengals played around Kelly, Washington has high hopes for the coming years.

“That’s a look into the future,” he said. “If they get stronger, they’ve got a chance to be good. They’re very skilled. If they get stronger, that’ll be something. The JV is undefeated anyway, so those guys are sort of used to winning.”

The Blythewood boys were scheduled to go to a tournament in Memphis, Tenn., today, but because of the team’s status with COVID, the Bengals will stay home. Their next game will be the Region 4-5A opener at Northwestern in Rock Hill Jan. 14. 

The Blythewood-White Knoll girls game was cancelled because of COVID. The Bengals will not play until Jan. 14, at Northwestern.

White Knoll  – 6-9-14-8 — 37

Blythewood – 16-19-12-19 — 66

White KnolL: Kaleb Evans 12, Funderburk 8, Daniels 5, Maddox 5, Watson 4, S. Sims 2, L. Sims 1. 

Blythewood: Randy Kelly 27, Caleb Gore 14, Lewis 7, Brooks 6, Howze 4, Chung 2, Jackson2, Hendrix 2, Ricks 2.

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