Westchester advances in state playoffs
HIGH POINT — Sadeeq Bello is reminded with a picture on his iPhone’s home screen that his team was only runner-up after a devastating loss at the buzzer in last week’s Triad Athletic Conference championship game. But he and Westchester Country Day head coach Dagan Nelson both agree – it is now the state playoffs, which means a new season.
“We’re using that as a motivator to move forward,” Nelson said.
Motivation played a big factor Tuesday night for the No. 6 seed Wildcats as they topped No. 11 The O’Neal School, 59-38, in the first round of the NCISAA 2A tournament. Bello and teammate Justice Cuthbertson scored a game high 19 points to give the Wildcats its second victory of the season over the Falcons.
Westchester, having won 13 straight before losing to Burlington Christian Academy last Friday night, advanced to the second round at 5:30 p.m. Thursday against First Assembly Christian in Charlotte.
“The hardest thing for high school kids to understand is to play with a sense of urgency, but tonight I thought we did that,” Nelson said.
Westchester led the game for all but two minutes in the first quarter, and enjoyed a double-digit lead for much of the fourth. The Wildcats looked vulnerable coming out of the locker room in the third quarter when O’Neal threatened with a 15-4 run. The lead was cut to six points, but O’Neal’s run was quickly extinguished by Bello’s 3-point shooting. He finished with four of his team’s six 3-pointers.
“(Bello) was huge tonight. He had a couple of back-breaking 3-pointers that really changed the momentum in this game,” Nelson said. “Credit to them, though. They changed their defense to a triangle-and-two, which rushed our shots, and our transition offense led to bad defense.”
Bello responded to the run with a 4-point play with two seconds remaining in the third quarter to give the Wildcats a 12-point lead going into the final quarter.
“My teammates told me to keep shooting the ball, have confidence, and I did,” Bello said. “Being the point guard, I had to help my team out and told them to get with it, we need this.”
Westchester shot 20 of 49 from the field that included 6-of-19 shooting from 3-point range. The Wildcats forced 10 Falcon turnovers and dominated the offensive glass with 19 rebounds. Freshman Nate Blakeney was a force underneath with 18 total rebounds on the night.
“I tell my guys to win in the post season, we need to hit free throws at a higher rate, block out, and don’t turn the ball over,” Nelson said.
His team did all three of those to advance to play First Assembly, a team that it lost to earlier in the season.