Rams shine at Dante Anderson Invitational

Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 3:02 p.m.

The 3rd annual Dante Anderson Memorial Invitational at Eastside High School last Saturday ended with Eastside pulling away from Orlando Jones in the fourth quarter with suffocating defensive play and a stellar performance by sophomore Benji Bell.

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Eastside's Benji Bell looks back at the ball after draining a jump shot during the Rams game against Orlando Jones High School last Saturday night during the Dante Anderson Memorial Invitational at Eastside High School. Bell is the brother of former Eastside basketball star Dante Anderson.

BRAD MCCLENNY/Special to the Guardian

Class 4A Eastside beat 2009 Class 3A runner-up Jones 68-59 in the final game of the day after defending Class 5A state champion Gainesville High School beat Class 6A Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson 64-61 in double overtime. Before that, Class 3A Santa Fe High School beat independent Hollywood Woods Haven Prep 60-56 before Class 2A Hawthorne High School lost to Class 3A Jacksonville Raines 74-37.

Eastside will play GHS at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Santa Fe College.

The event, hosted by Eastside and sponsored by, has been held annually since Anderson died in a car crash in May 2007. As a sophomore in 2006, Anderson led Eastside to its only state championship and was named MVP of the Class 5A Final Four that year. He was the consensus No. 1 prospect in Florida in the Class of 2008, and is considered by many to be the best basketball player ever in Alachua County.

It was only fitting that Benji, the younger brother of Anderson, led the Rams to victory over Jones with a team high 21 points.

Benji opened up the game with a running one-handed jumper in the lane to give Eastside a 2-0 lead that was extended to 4-0 when junior guard Raheem Watkins scored off a pass from senior center Harold "Gator" Hoskins. Angelo Warner then scored for Jones to make the score 4-2 before Benji drove to the basket and scored to extend the Eastside lead to 6-2. The Rams then went on a 9-4 run behind a 3-pointer by Benji and two baskets by Harold and a basket by junior swing man Rodney Mills to go up 15-6. The Rams extended its lead to 18-8 after a 3-pointer by senior guard Jerrod "Juicy" Owens as the first period came to an end.

Jones came roaring back at the beginning of the second period as it scored 13 consecutive points to take a 21-18 lead.

Rodney then hit a 3-pointer for Eastside to tie the game at 21. The teams traded baskets for most of the rest of the period with Jones going into halftime with a 32-31 lead. Both teams came out in the third period and played with great intensity as the period ended with the score tied at 49.

The Rams (8-2) outscored Jones 19-10 in the final period with a strong defensive effort.

Eastside Coach Herman "Pop" Williams said he is proud of the way his team played against Jones. He said all of the teams gave great efforts despite playing in a lot of games over the holidays.

"It was an emotional game for us, especially for Benji Bell because he is Dante's little brother," Williams said.

Williams said the key to the victory was that the Rams played tough defense in the fourth period with a group of players who executed well.

"We played a couple guys I kept in because we had some guys just putting it up at the basket and not doing what they were supposed to do," Williams said. "I just decided to stick with the guys who wanted to play hard. Defensively, we picked it up and started making their kid go to one side of the floor preventing them from getting into their offense at the end of the game."

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