The bench players on a basketball team play a vital role in the team's success as they are asked to perform when starters are having an off night, are in foul trouble or are out due to injury.
The Bethlehem boys experienced two of those scenarios on Friday night, but managed to prevail with a hard fought 76-65 victory over Columbia in a Suburban Council Gold Division battle at Bethlehem High School.
The Eagles played most of the game without two starters who found themselves in early foul trouble. They were also without starting perimeter shooter Dan Lanchantin, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
I was trying to protect guys that were in foul trouble. When you change your personnel it obviously effects the flow of the game a little bit, Bethlehem coach A.G. Irons said. "We're a pretty deep team, but the five that were on the court to begin the game have been practicing together for the last two days. So, they're used to playing with each other."
It looked as if the Eagles(7-3 league, 10-4 overall) would cruise to an easy victory as they raced to a 23-6 lead with two minutes to go in the first quarter. The early advantage was due to the play of senior guard Joe Kane, who made four of his five shots for nine points.
"In the first, it looked like we were going to blow them out, and I think everybody got that feeling," said Irons.
After Bethlehem's Connor Muncil knocked down a three-pointer with 4:52 left in the second quarter to make the score 31-16, Columbia stormed back behind Joe Keefe, who tallied 11 of his team's 22 second-quarter points, which cut the Eagles' lead to 36-33. Keefe finished with a game-high 28 points.
"Even though we gave up a ton of points in the second quarter, I still think we held our own," Irons said.