Jarell White had fun on Sunday afternoon.
The Bellport senior forward said he felt he and his team played looser and calmer than they have in weeks, topping South Side, 80-60, in the Richard Brown Nassau-Suffolk Challenge at Uniondale High School.
“We were playing free,” said White, who finished with a game-high 31 points. “We’ve been playing a lot of games, so I think we’re tired, but we’ve been focused on staying together.”
The non-league matchup was Bellport’s fifth game since Jan. 13, including a 71-67 victory over Centereach on Jan. 19, but the Clippers (12-2) refused to see it as a challenge. Instead, the team viewed the game as an opportunity to test new schemes, playing different lineups and switching between defenses.
“We’re fortunate enough that we’re already qualified for the playoffs so now we’re trying to see who gels together,” Bellport assistant coach Kai Watkins said. “We’re trying to work some combinations out, see who fits together.
The experiment paid off as Bellport seized control from the opening tip, sinking its first seven shots of the game and jumping out to a 20-13 lead after the first quarter.
“At that point, everyone is confident,” White said. “You pass to the open man and you know he’s going to knock it down. We all trust each other to make the shot.”
Bellport continued to control tempo throughout the first half, forcing South Side (9-4) into turnovers and difficult offensive looks. The Cyclones were held to eight field goals in the opening two quarters, and struggled to get into the paint or grab an offensive rebound. Bellport led 41-25 at halftime.
“All five guys were playing defense,” Watkins said. “It was a complete team effort and everyone was on the same page.”
The Clippers didn’t miss a beat coming out of halftime.
Bellport opened the third quarter on a 22-10 run and, with 3:02 left in the frame, White made it a 63-35 game. South Side answered with a 7-0 run, but it was too little too late against a Bellport squad that was willing to try anything.
It wasn’t always a perfect game. Bellport had too many turnovers, but with 12 different players scoring, it was a game the Clippers hope is a sign of things to come.
“We’ve been trying to pick up the little things,” White said. “In a game like this we were just trying to get better as a team.”