Through the season's first month, Bel Air has been labeled a run-and-gun, one-dimensional boys basketball team.
But last night against undefeated Fallston, the No. 20 Bobcats showed they could do a variety of things - and do all of them well.
They played up-tempo, building an early lead on the strength of precise three-point shooting. Then in the second half, they spread out, slowed the ball down and put on a clinic at the free-throw line.
It added up to an impressive 70-56 victory over the Cougars before a sold-out crowd at Bel Air.
With the win in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Chesapeake Division opener for both teams, Bel Air improved to 8-0. The Cougars fell to 7-1.
"I don't know where it comes from because we're not a team that runs and guns," Bobcats coach Chris Harney said of the label. "We're very versatile, and we try to do what the other team doesn't want to do."
Junior guard Miguel Negron led four Bobcats in double figures with 20 points, doing most of his damage at the foul line. Negron helped seal the win down the stretch, hitting 13 of 15 attempts from the line. As a team, the Bobcats were 25-for-31, including 22-for-25 in the second half.
"They did what we usually like to do - get a lead, go to the basket and make a living on the foul line," said Cougars coach Matt Jergensen.
Brandon Rodick finished with 16 points (4-for-5 on three-pointers), T.J. Jordan had 12 and Randy Jones added 11 for the Bobcats, who were 7-for-18 from three-point range.
Fallston's junior forward/center, Phil Vornadore, played well, scoring 26 points on 12-for-17 shooting, to go with 12 rebounds and two blocks. Brian Cannon added 10 points, but the Cougars didn't have the answers on the defensive end.
It was Rodick who got Bel Air going early, draining a fall-away three-pointer right before the first-quarter buzzer to give the Bobcats a 15-14 lead.
Later, Rodick banked in a three-pointer and Mike Hacke scored over Vornadore with four seconds left before intermission as the Bobcats took a 33-28 halftime advantage.
Jones nailed two three-pointers and Rodick one as the Bobcats started the third quarter with a 9-2 run to extend the lead to 42-30.
"We're a good three-point shooting team, and we look for that to get us going," Negron said.
Feeding Vornadore at every opportunity, Fallston cut the Bel Air lead to 46-40 at the start of the fourth quarter, but by then the Bobcats were slowing the ball down on the offensive end, forcing Fallston to apply pressure that often resulted in fouls.
Jordan's baseline drive and subsequent foul shot sparked an 8-0 Bel Air run, giving the Bobcats a 61-45 lead with 3:41 left. From there, it was all Negron, who hit seven free throws in the last 2:07.
"We definitely had something to prove," said Rodick, whose team was predicted by most to finish third in the division behind Aberdeen and Fallston. "We want to show everybody that we're the team to beat."