Hamilton went into its Greater Miami Conference game on Tuesday at Mason needing one win in its last two games to complete its best regular season since going 15-5 in 2006-2007.
The challenge was imposing. The Comets had won the last 10 games between the two teams and were 17-1 against the Big Blue since joining the GMC in 2007.
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Hamilton will have to try to get that job on Friday at Lakota West in the regular-season finale. Mason needed just more than five minutes to open up a double-digit lead, and the Comets went on to a 77-66 win over the Big Blue at Mason Arena.
Junior Landen Long connected on four 3-pointers, sank all six of his free throws and tied his career high with 22 points to lead Mason (15-4, 11-4 GMC), which went into Tuesday’s game tied with Lakota East and Oak Hills for second in the conference behind Princeton. Senior forward Noah Pedelty added 19 and four steals for the Comets who have won of their last five games and eight of their last 10 and seem to be generating momentum for the district tournament, in which they are seeded fourth.
“We hope so,” coach Greg Richards said. “We’re playing tough teams at this of the year, which is what you want to do.”
Junior guard D’Marco Howard finished with a double-double – 23 points and 10 rebounds – for Hamilton (12-9, 7-8), which has lost two straight games after a three-game winning streak. Junior guard Payton Pennington added 18 points and junior guard Jaylen Robinson finished with 12.
“We’ve struggled against Mason – this year, last year, for a while,” Big Blue coach Sean Van Winkle said. “They do a good job. They’re disciplined with the ball and play great defense. They knock down shots. They’re a very good shooting team.”
Hamilton committed just four more turnovers than Mason, 16-12, but the Comets did a better job of capitalizing with a 22-8 advantage in points off turnovers while leading by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter. Matthew Minick, Mason’s 6-foor-6 junior forward, finished with as many blocked shots – five – as he had points.
The Comets rushed to a 21-9 lead by the end of the first quarter behind senior guard Tyree Mizell’s seven points. Hamilton committed six turnovers in the quarter.
Mason led by as many as 16 points, 31-15, after Pedelty capped a 9-0 run with a short jumper with 4:40 left in the half on his way to scoring seven points in the quarter. The Big Blue fought back to cut the deficit to 38-28 on Pennington’s desperation halfcourt shot at the buzzer.
Hamilton took advantage of a Mason cold spell coming out of the locker room to cut the Comets’ lead to five, 38-33, but they closed the quarter with an 8-0 run sparked by back-to-back 3-pointers by Landen Long to take a 54-40 lead into the fourth quarter, which Long opened with another 3-pointer and two free throws for a bulging 59-40 lead.
“We had a good run at the end of the third quarter,” Richards said. “They’re a good team. They have a lot of good offensive weapons. That’s why you have to keep the pedal to the metal.”