WEST CHESTER >> The boys basketball game between West Chester Henderson and Downingtown East Tuesday night at Reichert Gymnasium more closely resembled a football game or wrestling bout than a basketball duel between Ches-Mont League National Division teams.
As the two foes went at each other for the entire 32 minutes, Downingtown East had to withstand the loss of its best player, Jayden Rowe, to an ankle injury in the second quarter.
But, the Cougars used their defense and ball pressure in the fourth quarter to hold West Chester Henderson to just one point in the last 4:52 of the game, and come away with a hard-fought, 45-44, Ches-Mont win, in the opening game of the season for East.
Downingtown East got big games from guard Joe Belbin, who led all scorers with 18 points, and senior strongman George Bousum, who tallied nine points to to go along with 12 very tough rebounds.
“Yes, being physical and playing tough down low is my game,” Bousum said. “Tonight, we lost Jayden and Joe Belbin kept us in the game with his three-point shooting. And we held them away from the basket in the fourth quarter and our bench was up rooting us on and the junior varsity players were going crazy in the stands and that really gave us a boost.”
West Chester Henderson (0-2, 0-3) was down 21-19 at halftime, but the Warriors built a 30-23 lead early in the fourth quarter on the 3-point shooting of Shawn Fay and Eddie Smink. But, the Cougars came back on two long Belbin threes, and at the end of the third quarter, the Cougars were back in front, 36-35.
“We have been senior-heavy the last couple of years and we had a consistent lineup,” Downingtown East coach John Goodman said. “But, these guys have waited their turn, guys like Joe Belbin and George, who got some minutes last year in tough spots. These guys now want to show what they can do.”
Henderson came out on fire in the fourth quarter. The Warriors got baskets from Fay, who led the Warriors with 16 points, and when Ryan Kirby scored inside it looked like a commanding lead at 43-36 with 4:52 to play in the fourth.
But, the Cougars turned up the ball pressure and the Warriors turned the ball over four times late in the game with Fay on the bench, the victim of committing five fouls. A Belbin miss with 1:10 to play gave the Warriors life. But, Kirby missed a layup in tight with 35 seconds to play. After Vishal Suthakar missed the front end of a one and one, the Warriors’ Kirby was fouled with 18.6 seconds to go.
After a Cougar timeout, Kirby hit one of two from the line, keeping Henderson down 45-44. But, the Warriors got the rebound and worked the ball around for a good shot. That shot came with four seconds left and was hotly contested by the ravenous Cougar defense. The Warriors missed and Bousum clutched the rebound and threw the ball high in the air to finish off a very hard-fought Ches-Mont League game, 45-44.
“We ramped up the ball pressure and these guys never quit,” Goodman said. “And when Jayden went down we had to find points and Joe Belbin did a great job for us and our defense was very good in the fourth quarter and that was the difference in the game. Guys like Jude Milon and Vishal played JV last year and for our first game of the season they did very well.”
Downingtown East 45, W.C. Henderson 44
DOWNINGTOWN EAST (45): Rowe 1 2-2 4, Belbin 4 7-7 18, Bousum 3 3-9 9, McClatchy 1 1-2 3, Suthakar 2 0-1 5, Milon 1 4-4 6, Shanahan 0 0-0 0., Datil 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 20-25 45.
W.C. HENDERSON (44): Jarden 1 0-2 2, Bell 2 0-0 6, Sells 0 3-3 3, Fay 5 5-6 16, Domenick 1 0- 1 3, Sirichio 1 2-2 4, Smink 1 0-0 3, Kirby 3 1-6 7. Totals 14 11-20-44.
Downingtown East 8 13 15 9 – 45
W.C. Henderson 9 10 16 9 – 44
3-point goals: Belbin 3, Suthakar, Bell 2, Fay, Domenick, Smink.