VAN ALSTYNE — Since the calendar flipped to the new year, Van Alstyne flipped a switch with the onset of district play.
The Panthers have won every time out in 2020 and only two of their games have been decided by single digits. And Van Alstyne has ramped things up offensively with the playoffs right around the corner as it defeated Bells, 83-55, to close out District 10-3A play undefeated.
VA scored at least 80 points for the third time in four games and put up at least 77 against a district opponent for the seventh time.
“Big-time competitors. They’ve wanted to get better all year long,” Van Alstyne head coach Russell Best said. “They compete in practice. They’ve worked hard to get to this point.”
Samuel Tormos scored 42 points — 21 in each half — and grabbed seven rebounds while J.J. Boling made five three-pointers to finish with 17 points and George Perperides chipped in five points for Van Alstyne (26-6, 12-0), which will open the playoffs against Pilot Point next week.
VA earns its second straight district championship and the fifth in the past six years.
“This group is playing at a really high level,” Best said. “It’s so hard to compare different teams.”
Keaton High scored 11 points and Bo Baker, Blake Rolen and Cooper Smith all added eight points for Bells (19-9, 9-3), which starts the postseason next week against the third seed from 9-3A, which will be either Ponder or Gunter.
It is the fourth playoff appearance in five seasons for Bells, which missed out last year when it placed sixth in the standings and won just seven games.
“The buy-in has been there since Coach West arrived in March. It has carried over into basketball,” first-year head coach Troy Willis said. “These kids will run through a brick wall for the coaching staff.”
By the time district play started, Bells had already surpassed last season’s win total. During 10-3A action, six of their nine victories were by single digits.
“I think a big part of it, we grew up a lot in those 16 games in learning how to win close games,” Willis said. “It was the third quarter that got us. The kids have learned from it.”
Bells was down just 10 points at half-time before Van Alstyne broke the game open with an 18-2 run to start the second half.
Van Alstyne finished with 11 three-pointers and four of them — two apiece by Boling and Tormos — came in the first three minutes of the deciding third-quarter run.
“They shoot the ball like that, they’re going to go to the region tournament,” Willis said.
In fact, the two scored all of the surge’s points with Tormos producing 12 of them, the last a layup following a steal for a 57-31 advantage with 4:30 left in the frame.
Blake Rolen ended the nearly three-minute drought by Bells and Baker followed with a three-pointer but Blake Skipworth answered from deep just seconds later and Van Alstyne built a 68-41 lead going to the final eight minutes.
The margin quickly hit 30 and Tormos closed out his big Senior Night performance on a three-point play with 5:43 to go.
The teams opened up the game by trading baskets but it was Van Alstyne making three-pointers while Bells was answering with layups. After Bells got within 9-8 on consecutive buckets from Rolen and Cade Doggett, Van Alstyne used an 11-1 run to take a 20-9 lead that was 23-12 after the first quarter on Boling’s three with nine seconds showing.
Tormos had a steal and score to put Van Alstyne up 13 with 5:35 left in the second quarter before Bells was able to trim the margin down to eight when High hit a pair of free throws with 2:40 until intermission.
Tormos capped the half with a layin at the buzzer for a 39-29 advantage and he and Boling had scored 30 of Van Alstyne’s points through two quarters
“If those two guys are playing well, they’re definitely our motor and get things started up,” Best said.