Dayton, Ohio–It was Friday, January 22nd as I entered the familiar Bison gymnasium, located in none other than the neighborhood that I was brought up in, Belmont.
Travelling in for an inner-conference match-up was the Cougars out of Thurgood Marshall High School. These were two basketball programs that not only had gotten off to a late start due to Dayton Public Schools’ Covid protocols, but had also taken a substantial hit due to the transfer frenzy that took place in Dayton over the 2020 off-season. While Thurgood took a larger hit during the Summer, losing the far majority of their team and coaching staff, the adversity has unfortunately not stopped for Belmont.
The Bison have gotten off to a hard fought 0-4 record, with losses to Oakwood, Trotwood-Madison, Dunbar, and Ponitz. Not to mention, Belmont is only four games into their season and they’ve already been burdened with contributors being sidelined. But, Belmont has still managed to contrast their youth and inexperience with competitiveness and heart. Coach Arthur Winston, alongside his newly acquired trio, the Razor brothers, plus an abundance of young and willing prospects are looking to turn the program in the right direction.
On the other end, Thurgood has responded well to their adversity, fueled by a new class of seniors and coaching staff, highlighted by contributing pieces in Jaylan Spann, Ronald Smith, and Markece Young. Their ability to quickly and swiftly buy in to a new culture and coach in Anthony Petty, is shown through their defensive intensity and offensive involvement all-around. Going into Belmont, the Cougars held a 2-2 record with losses similar to Belmont in Dunbar and Trotwood. But, they’d matched those defeats with triumphs over Meadowdale and Stivers.
Going into this match-up, I was not only brimming with eagerness, but curiosity as well because this would be my first look at the rebuilt Thurgood Marshall Cougars. I went in forecasting a competitive dual, and that’s exactly what those watching received.
Both teams began the first quarter in proper defensive fashion, Belmont setting up in a 1-2-2 and not allowing any easy points, while Thurgood tested the Bison’s ball security and responded with an early full-court press.
After a couple back and forth possessions, Ronald Smith flaunted his range to the crowd’s amusement, knocking down a deep three off the dribble in one fluid motion to put Thurgood up early. But, Jayden Razor rapidly responded with a catch & shoot three of his own from the wing. Tie game.
Throughout the first quarter, Belmont’s help defense would deter Thurgood from scoring in the paint, if even reached. The Bison did a good job of not over-helping, and didn’t fully commit to corner traps. Even with Thurgood’s profound pressure, Belmont kept themselves calm and composed up the floor, advancing without too much difficulty.
The Cougars responded to the 1-2-2 they were met with, with frequent ball movement and unselfishness, consistently looking for the best opportunities. Thurgood’s obedience, along with nicely timing showed halfway into the first quarter. Jaylan Spann received orders from his coaches to defensively seal his matchup, not allowing for any easy pass to go through. Spann did exactly this, forcing the turnover and finish in transition.
A minute later, Thurgood looked to heavily shift the momentum in their favor with a big alley-oop to Markece Young. But, Jaylen Razor prevented the lob with a bit of a shove to Young. Belmont and elite defender, Jaylen Razor would not allow any, and I mean any easy points! What could’ve been a momentous swing in the game, ended up in a missed free throw and one point.
Thurgood continued pressuring baseline to baseline, with their intensity reaching it’s fullest potential once they crossed the half court. With two minutes remaining in the quarter, this would lead to the momentum change the Cougars were looking for. Their constant pressure, active hands, quick feet, and intensity flowed from the one to the five on the court, and everyone on the sideline. Everyone was in the moment of the game, including Coach Petty, who was as much responsible for the intensity that ended in a swat by Dauntre’ Brown.
Ronald Smith would put the icing on the cake with a contested buzzer beater three to give him 11 points out the first quarter, on 4/6 shooting. After eight minutes of play, Thurgood held a slight five point lead over Belmont, 19-14.
To begin the second quarter, Markece Young came out of the gates showing off his beautiful footwork and desire to put the ball into the basket. Young received his post entry, keeping the ball low, and was immediately faced with a double team. Young took a pound dribble to unbalance his primary defender, pivoted and faced looking to score, not bothered by the help defense. He slightly and quickly pump faked, looking to score over his matchup, but the fake was sold well enough and got his defender off of his feet. He then makes a second pivot to get in front of his defender and finish inside, making sure to jump off of two feet to resist the travel violation.
Belmont continued matching Thurgood’s every move. Clarence Razor brandished his elegant footwork as well. After a loose ball ended in the Bison’s favor, Clarence entered a 1v1 fast-break situation, to which he euro stepped past his oncoming defender in a different direction. Clarence finished elegantly off of the glass, not only showing good footwork, but balance as well. Clarence Razor wouldn’t stop there either.
The footwork and balance seemed to spread throughout the team. Shortly after, Chace Wells is inserted in a similar fast-break situation, euro stepping in transition, mimicking Clarence and finishing for two. This cut it down to a one possession game in Dayton.
Even with Thurgood’s lead, the Cougars were having difficulty scoring in the paint, having to work for all of their shots inside and outside of the arc, unless coming from fast-breaks. Not only was defense showing for Belmont, but as was their heart. Lack of height when compared to 6’6 Markece Young was no threat to the Bison. They consistently crashed and came down with offensive rebounds.
With two minutes and thirty seconds remaining, Delinace Semerant stepped up, knocking down an acrobatic mid range floater off of a nicely timed hesitation. Clarence Razor would once again respond, this time with a pull up three off of a pound dribble, not creating much separation, but still doing the job. Razor was beginning to get heated, unofficially finishing with 7 points, on 3/3 shooting in the second quarter.
Jaylan Spann wasn’t going to allow Belmont to enter the second half with the momentum though. He continued to turn defense into offense with just over a minute remaining in the first half, securing a steal and slam on the other end. Going into the final two quarters, Thurgood held the lead, 30-27.
Jaylan Spann started the quarter right where he left off with a put-back two.
Not too much longer, Belmont entered their full court press. But, lack of communication while getting back on defense lead to an open baseline flush for Spann. On the offensive end, turnovers began to rack up, struggling to maintain ball security when faced with Thurgood’s intense defensive pressure.
Then came the moment, a bad pass by Belmont off full court pressure from Thurgood led to a wide receiver catch and steal for Ronald Smith at half-court. After taking a few dribbles, he meets a defender with a spin move, gaining separation. But, is met by a help defender who he finishes through and on the opposite side of the basket for the and-1!
Clarence Razor tried his best to help Belmont slowly but steadily cut down the deficit by getting to the free throw line, showing his above par ability to create contact and capitalize at the charity. He wasn’t ready to let Thurgood run away with it, bringing it back down to a single digit game by showing his athleticism and ability to get to the line with ease, with a beautiful and elegant finish.
Razor caught the inbound on the perimeter, pump faking and getting his defender on his hip. He then responded to the help defense in the middle of the lane by showing the ball high and going into contact as they both left the ground. Clarence then scooped the ball and finished low, laying the ball high off the glass as the finish was met with a whistle!
The Cougars would stretch it back to a ten point lead before the end of the third quarter, 49-39.
The final eight minutes of action was upon us, and Belmont wasn’t going anywhere.
After a three pointer from Greg Pooler, Clarence Razor responded with a bucket in transition. Belmont continued getting to the line, with a foul count of 10 to 4. This led to the Bison cutting down their deficit to five, 58-53.
Belmont attempted to force some turnovers with their full court press, but trouble getting back into half-court match-ups led to Pooler stretching Thurgood’s lead to eight, knocking down another three with only three minutes to go.
William Sharp quickly responded with a bucket down low to cut it to six, showing his ability to use pump fakes and his IQ down low to score in the paint.
Then, things started to take a sharp turn in the wrong direction for the Bison. After a good defensive play following Sharp’s bucket, Sharp with the momentum took a mid-range shot, but it couldn’t meet the bottom of the net.
Belmont fought to retain possession, but a costly travel violation and turnover from the Bison allowed Thurgood to get the ball while up six with two minutes to go. Thurgood wasted no time holding the ball, instead once again dishing it to Pooler in the same spot for another three, stretching it to nine.
Things began to get desperate for Belmont, but a patient possession led to a nice find by Marquese Arnold to Will Sharp down low. Sharp had the open look but couldn’t finish it.
The Bison’s youth and inexperience was beginning to effect their ability to finish out the comeback.
The Cougars still reluctant to waste clock, Ronnie Smith fires a no look pass down to Spann for a wide open layup to put the cherry on top.
After a few more possessions, Thurgood came out with the win. But, not without a hard fight from Belmont. Your final score, 68-59.
Prospect Watchlist (Top 3 most eye-catching performers from each team, in no particular order)
- Clarence Razor (6’2” Guard | 2021 | Belmont HS)
- Ronald Smith (6’1” Guard | 2022 | Thurgood Marshall HS)
- Jaylen Razor (6’0″ Guard | 2022 | Belmont HS)
- Jaylan Spann (6’3” Forward | 2021 | Thurgood Marshall HS)
- Jayden Razor (5’10” Guard | 2022 | Belmont HS)
- Markece Young (6’6″ Forward | 2024 | Thurgood Marshall HS)
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