And the Patriots almost did.
Sullivan East fell 55-47 to an athletic squad, but the Patriots had the game at the tempo they wanted and found themselves leading at the half by one point (24-23).
Adam Davison led Sullivan East with 18 points while Dustin Bartley had 10.
The Patriots actually outrebounded a taller and lengthier opponent, 26-20.
Stanley Eze led Mount Bethel with a game-high 20 while Jordan Meka had 13 and four emphatic slam dunks. Jayce Harrison provided timely 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter and finished with 12.
“It was a fantastic effort out of our guys,” East head coach John Dyer said. “We did everything we wanted to do. They’re so athletic. (Eze) killed us. They hit some timely 3-pointers. We tried to build a fort and do the best we could.”
The Eagles were clinging to a two-point lead at the end of the third quarter, so East had a real shot at a huge first-round upset.
Bethel never relinquished the lead once it moved in front. However, the Eagles almost choked it away at the free-throw line, going 5 for 12 and letting the Pats get almost every defensive rebound down the stretch.
“We can play at different paces,” Mount Bethel head coach Cal Boyd said. “We can play games in the 60s or in the 70s, but we like it kind of slow. I believe you have to execute offense in the half court in order to win championships.
“They were a well-coached team and they run good stuff on offense. They have a lot of smart players. That’s what’s so great about the Arby’s Classic. You come here and you’re going to see a lot of different varieties in teams. We needed a game like this.”
Sullivan East had three opportunities down the stretch to cut the lead to one possession, but turnovers hurt the Patriots. East finished with 20 turnovers and just 15 made field goals.
The Patriots play Tabernacle Baptist at noon on Friday in an elimination game. Mount Bethel takes on Knox Bearden at 8 p.m.