If they don’t cut back on turnovers and shoot free throws a little better, Bedford’s Kicking Mules might not be good enough to win their rematch next month at Ann Arbor Pioneer.
But Friday night, despite 23 giveaways and a subpar 9-for-16 effort at the foul line, the Mules were just good enough to stay unbeaten with an important 56-54 basketball victory against the Pioneers.
The win lifted Bedford to 9-0 overall and a first-place 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference’s Red Division.
“Being 9-0 feels pretty good,” second-year Bedford coach Nick Lowe said. “Ann Arbor Pioneer’s been one of the top dogs in the league for a long time, and anytime you can get a win — whether it’s pretty or ugly — you take it.
“We built enough of a cushion where we could withstand a little bit of a rally and executed in the last four minutes pretty good against their pressure.”
The Mules, ranked No. 5 in the Detroit Free Press Class A state poll, seek the first boys basketball league championship in school history, and beating traditional SEC Red power Pioneer (8-3, 3-1) at home was a big step in that quest.
Bedford was led, as usual, by 6-foot-6 senior forward Jackson Lamb, who scored 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and blocked four shots in what was, for him, a below-average output. Lamb came in averaging 27.9 points and 13.3 rebounds per game.
A little better effort at the free-throw stripe would have brought him closer to the scoring norm.
With Bedford watching what was a 52-42 lead — with 3 minutes, 19 seconds remaining — melt down to two points with seven seconds to play, Lamb had a chance to ice the win at the line.
Pioneer got within striking distance when Jibreel Hussein (13 points) nailed a 3 from the left corner to make it 56-54, then fouled Lamb off the inbounds pass. Lamb missed both, and Bedford fans had to hold their collective breath has Tevis Robinson’s desperation half-court heave at the buzzer missed the target.
“It’s a big advantage winning this game,” Lamb said. “Now we’re in first place, and that’s pretty important. Once you get down [in the standings], it’s hard to come back from that.
“I missed two pretty important free throws that could have cost us the game, but luckily enough, there wasn’t enough time left on the clock for them to take anything but a crazy shot.”
The Mules led 12-8 after one quarter, then bumped the gap to 30-24 at halftime thanks to a Brad Boss 3-pointer 30 seconds before the break.
After Pioneer got within 30-28 early in the third quarter, Bedford stretched its lead back to eight before taking a 41-37 edge to the final period.
That is when the Mules produced perhaps their most crucial run of the game — a 6-0 surge to open the fourth quarter on buckets from Jeremiah Harris (six points, six rebounds), backup forward Adam Swisher (nine points), and Lamb.
That put Bedford up 47-37 with 5:08 remaining, but the Pioneers refused to go away.
Following a free throw by Dennis Guss (eight points) that put the Mules up 52-42 with 3:19 to go, Pioneer forced Bedford’s final two turnovers, got a pair of 3-pointers from Hussein, and were aided by the Mules missing 4 of 6 free throws in the final 26.7 seconds.
“We worked on it all week in practice, but I don’t think we assimilated it as well as we thought,” Guss said of preparing for Pioneer’s pressure defense. “We handled it well down the stretch.
“It’s great to get out ahead. This league is tough. Anyone can beat anyone, so if you can get out there ahead and just keep going, it helps your chances a lot. We want to get the first banner as league champion.”
Perhaps the most telling stat was that each team made 23 field goals, but Bedford got its baskets on 30 fewer attempts.
Bedford was 23 of 38 (61 percent) from the field and matched Pioneer’s 29 rebounds.
Pioneer was 23 of 68 (34 percent) from the field and committed 10 fewer turnovers than the Mules. Robinson added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Pioneers.
“Playing everybody twice in this league, you’ve got to hold court at home and win a few on the road,” Lowe said. “If you can do that, you’re going to win a league like this. We still have to go to their place, so we knew tonight was huge.
“We put ourselves in first place for now, but there’s still a lot of basketball to go.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.