CHAMPAIGN, Ill.—The Bloomington Flex dominated the Champaign Swarm in their own building to the tune of a 102-81 victory Thursday night. The Flex (5-1) added a loss to the Swarm’s previously unblemished record (now 3-1) and took over first place in the MPBA.
Bloomington dominated nearly all facets of the game including: outshooting Champaign 53 percent-33 percent, outrebounding them (38-34), getting to the line for 10 more attempts, and winning the turnover battle 17-19.
The Flex’s inside-outside tandem continued to pave the way for their success. Flex guard Justin Bocot, the league-leading scorer at 27.2 points per game, led all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 6 rebounds and season highs of 5 assists and 5 steals.
On the interior, Anthony Slack racked up his second double-double of the season with 21 points and his season-high 13 rebounds. It was a nice comeback game for Slack, who only tallied 4 points and 3 rebounds in the previous game because he got into early foul trouble.
The Swarm entered Thursday’s contest with an undefeated record and highest scoring offense in the Midwest Professional Basketball Association at 118 points per game. In three games, they held opponents to just a 38.8 field goal percentage and 92 points, while accumulating nearly 14 steals per game and outrebounding their opponents by an average of 16.7 rebounds per game.
However, the Flex posed a unique challenge to the early season one-seed. The Flex entered the matchup as the second leading scoring team in the league at 104.8 points per game and shot 53.2 percent from the field—the only team to clear 50 percent.
The Flex were well aware of the Swarm’s propensity for the up-tempo, ball-hawking defense and were ready. Bloomington’s Justin Bocot revealed the game plan to MPBA broadcaster Scott Beatty after the win
“They press,” said Bocot. “If we beat the press we can score points. They wanted to press us the whole game, and we got them out of it by breaking the press.”
What the game plan could not have predicted was how much they would take on the “Swarm role.” Bloomington entered the game averaging 4.8 steals per game—the least in the league– but by the time the final horn sounded they had racked up 13 steals.
The Flex’s unmatched size down low presented a rare and unsolvable problem for the Swarm. Bloomington racked up 11 blocks. Slack led the way with his season-high six, and Terrence Green added four more.
Not to be outdone by their fellow guard Bocot, C.J. Hampton and Fabyon Harris both put up double figures for the Flex. Harris, who has made it into double figures in all six games this season, dropped 16 points and added three steals. Hampton meanwhile made it rain. Hampton went 6 of 9 from 3-point range and notched 22 points total.
Hampton gave the Flex the lead with a first-quarter 3-pointer to make it 5-2, and Bloomington never relinquished the lead again. The lead ballooned to as large as nine in the first period, but the quarter ended just 21-16 in favor of the Flex.
However, Bloomington pulled away in the second period. The Flex outscored the Swarm 34-14 in the second quarter and held a 25-point (55-30) lead at halftime.
Despite Bocot sitting for a majority of the third quarter with foul trouble the lead hit it’s game high of 27-points a couple of times. On the back of Swarm guard Andrew Weaver, Champaign gave themselves some life by going into the game’s final period trailing only by 19.
In the fourth quarter, the Swarm drew as close as 15 points, but another well-timed time out by first-year Flex Head Coach Carlnel Wiley Jr., righted the ship and a 12-4 run put the game away.
For the Swarm, the highlights are largely conciliatory. Aaron Weaver led the squad with 22 points, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. Mark St. Fort recorded his third-straight double-double with his 13 points and 11 rebounds. Champaigns leading scorer entering the game, Arnold Louis, scored 17 points but it took him 22 shots to do it.
The Swarm do not have much time to wallow in their first loss. They are headed north for their first road game tonight, Jan. 30, to take on the Windy City Groove(1-3).
The Bloomington’s win is their fifth consecutive. The Flex’s only loss of the year came in their first game, on the road, to the St. Louis RiverSharks, who currently are in third at 4-2. Although they were an established power with championships in their previous league, their substantial turnover might be a decent excuse for their solitary loss.
“We have a new coach,” Bocot answered to the question of being the only team with any continuity entering the year. “We didn’t return that many players from last year’s team. We only had two practices before that first game. We started fresh”
While this might sound like an excuse for the first loss, it rings more true as an explanation for the next five wins. The question now is: what will this team become?
“The team is gelling,” said Bocot. “All the guys are coming together. We are starting to figure things out.”
Ten more days of gelling and figuring stuff out cannot be good news for the Chicago Force (1-3), who face off with the first-place Flex Feb. 8 at the Kroc Center.
(Photo Credit: Mick Lite)
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