BEDFORD — Jackson Lamb’s first-half dunk could have rattled the Central Catholic boys basketball team.
The thundering dunk brought Bedford’s fans to its feet, and could have sent the Irish reeling.
After calling a timeout seconds after the shot, the Irish didn’t let any aftershocks from the play shake its collective poise. Instead, Central senior Deontae Cole calmly sank a three-pointer to help his team maintain its lead late in the first half of Saturday’s 65-50 win at Bedford.
“Our coach really spoke to us about keeping our composure in a big-time environment like this,” said Cole, who led all scorers with 22 points. “The dunk was really big by Jackson Lamb, and he’s a really good player, but we really just executed.
“Down the stretch, you have to learn how to execute under pressure.
"Teams are going to go on runs. It’s just how you respond to them.”
Behind Cole and DeShone Kizer’s 11 points, the Irish pulled away from the Kicking Mules late in the first quarter and built a double-digit lead in the second by capitalizing on turnovers and creating scoring chances off transition plays.
Central maintained a double-digit lead through a better part of Saturday’s game, but the matchup had the intensity level of a playoff contest.
“With the two teams having the two records that they have, and both being proud programs, I think it’s going to be pretty intense,” Bedford Coach Nick Lowe said. “We expected it to be an intense kind of game.”
But, Lowe said, Central’s composure was key.
“Obviously, their poise is very important,” he said. “That’s not out of their character, though, when they do that.
"They’ve got a lot of three-year varsity players and one of their characteristic is their poise. That benefits them.”
After Cole answered with his second three-pointer of the first half, Central took a 37-26 lead at halftime and stretched its lead to as many as 20 points in the third quarter.
Lamb finished with 18 points — including his dunk with less than two minutes left in the first half — but the Kicking Mules went 4 for 12 shooting in the first quarter and Central held Bedford to one basket in the first five minutes of the second half.
“I don’t know if it’s what they did to contain us, but [Central] shot the ball really well,” said Lowe, whose team trailed 52-37 after the third quarter. “When you shoot the ball like they did, it was hard for us to catch up because of how well they shot the ball in the defensive end.”
In the fourth, Bedford forward Jeremiah Harris cut Central’s lead twice to ten points - 54-44 with 5:20 left in the fourth quarter and 57-47 with less than four minutes left — but the Irish scored their final eight points on free throws.
“They really pushed us to play defense,” Cole said of Bedford’s effort. “We really have focused on defense in the past few weeks, and we’re continuing to get better at it.
"Bedford was really tough to beat. They’re physical, they’re tough and they really played hard.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.