Hamilton High School boys basketball coach Kevin Higgins couldn’t help thinking maybe it just wasn’t the Big Blue’s night as he watched rival Middletown take a big lead in the first quarter Friday.
The shots weren’t falling and they were struggling with turnovers early on, but the Big Blue weren’t going to let that stop them from finding a way to win.
Middletown opened the game on a 13-0 run and led by 11 at halftime, but Hamilton clawed its way back in the fourth quarter to earn its fifth straight win, beating the Middies 41-38 at home Friday.
»PHOTO GALLERY: View 39 images from Hamilton-Middletown game
“Rivalry game — we weren’t very good, they were good, but our defense was really good in the second half,” Higgins said. “Our kids, simply put, they just gutted it out. There was nothing pretty about it. We had to make it ugly, and we were able to just make enough plays.”
Hamilton (7-1, 4-1 Greater Miami Conference) kept chipping away at Middletown’s lead in the third quarter but the Middies (2-7, 0-5 GMC) continued to respond and went into the fourth quarter up 31-22.
The Big Blue opened the final period on a 10-0 run to take their first lead with 3:15 left. Trey Robinson’s dunk to bring Hamilton within one ignited the crowd, and then he intercepted a pass at midcourt, dished it off and ended up with the ball back in his hands for the go-ahead bucket.
“We executed for 28 minutes, but the game is 32 minutes,” Middletown coach Darnell Hoskins said. “I give them all the credit in the world. They just gutted it out and stuck around. We gift-wrapped a couple turnovers for them, they capitalized and finished.”
After Ke’von Burnett scored back-to-back buckets with a steal in between to make it a four-point lead for Hamilton with 1:27 left, the Middies tied it back up with 50 seconds remaining and had a chance to regain the lead when Hamilton forced a bad shot and missed the rebound.
Instead, Robinson put the Big Blue up for good when he came up with another steal and scored on a coast-to-coast layup with a free throw attached. Kristian Walton sealed the game at the free-throw line with 13.3 seconds left, hitting both his shots.
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“It was really tough (falling behind),” Robinson said. “It was just slow for us, and we just found a way. We got stops at the end in our press base, and that won it for us. That’s it.”
Middletown had nine turnovers in the fourth quarter, and Hamilton took advantage, making 7 of 12 field goals that period to outscore the Middies 19-7.
“We just weren’t mentally tough enough to close the deal,” Hoskins said. “Nothing changed, just the emotions of the game, a little bit. … They didn’t do anything differently than they did in the first half in terms of their pressure. We made them better because we turned the ball over, and in the first half we really didn’t.”
The Middies had built their 13-0 lead in the first quarter when Hamilton was struggling with turnovers (12 in the first quarter) and couldn’t seem to buy a basket while shooting just 20 percent. Walton even missed a dunk in the second quarter, and Robinson, the GMC’s top scorer, shot just 3-for-10 in the first half while missing on some easy attempts from close range.
Hamilton made a few tweaks at halftime and went back to its “Princeton offense” the last five minutes. Higgins said that enabled the Big Blue to get different spacing and put Robinson more at the elbow for one-on-one opportunities.
Robinson proved unstoppable when it mattered most, as he finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Tywan Hall led Middletown with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“We just weren’t connecting, and all of a sudden it just clicked,” Higgins said. “Guys got connected, and it’s a great group. They have a will to win. They just don’t give up. It’s something they’ve developed over the last two years, a lot of these guys playing together a while now. … It was nothing flashy. It was just making plays to win.”
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