Hamilton coach Sean Van Winkle’s best move of the Big Blue’s game against Fairfield on Friday was putting Bryan Henderson into the game.
The 6-foot-3 senior forward came up with offensive rebounds after Big Blue shooters missed the front ends of two bonus situations in a span of four seconds inside the last 20, helping Hamilton hold off the Indians for a 53-48 Greater Miami Conference win.
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“That why we put him in there,” Van Winkle said of Henderson, who finished with four offensive rebounds, helping Hamilton outrebound Fairfield by five.
Junior guard D’Marco Howard scored 17 points and blocked three shots and 6-foot junior guard Jaylen Robinson added 14 points – seven on free throws in eight tries – and seven rebounds for Hamilton (9-6, 5-5), which snapped a two-game losing streak and avenged a 67-65 loss at Fairfield on Dec. 17. Senior forward Cameron Benson finished with a team-high eight rebounds, and he also had three of Hamilton’s nine blocked shots. Fairfield (5-11, 3-7) blocked one shot while suffering its fourth straight loss and sixth in its last seven games.
This was the seventh consecutive game in the series decided by nine or fewer points, and former Fairfield student Howard found it particularly satisfying.
“This was huge,” said the 6-2 Howard, who transferred to Hamilton for his freshman year. “Personally, I was really anxious about this game. I was really looking forward to this. We weren’t happy about the last game. I was proud of the adjustments we made from that game.”
Junior guard Peyton Brown was the only Indian in double figures with 12 points, and senior guard Blake Spaulding just missed a double-double with nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
“This is how all Fairfield-Hamilton games should be,” Fairfield coach Jeff Sims said. “A lot of these kids play together in the summer. They get after it on the court, but it doesn’t carry over.”
“We knew this game would be a good game,” Van Winkle said. “They’re probably our biggest rival. Back in the day, it was Middletown, but now I think it’s Fairfield.”
Hamilton took its biggest lead, 42-26, on Howard’s layup with 50 seconds left in the third quarter, capping a 13-4 run. The Indians ramped up the pressure out of their 1-3-1 defense, trapping Big Blue players and forcing turnovers, and cut the lead to seven, 47-40, on two free throws by junior forward Devin Turner with 2:56 left in the game. Brown’s 3-pointer from the left corner left Hamilton leading, 51-45, with 22 seconds left in the game.
Fairfield led, 8-0, fewer than two minutes into the game behind back-to-back 3-pointers from Brown and junior guard Tink English, but the Big Blue outscored the Indians, 27-10, the rest of the half behind eight points from Howard and seven from Robinson. Hamilton took its first lead, 13-12, on Kurtis Reid’s 3-pointer from the right corner with 45 seconds left in the first quarter, and Howard’s 3-pointer from the same spot with six seconds left gave the Big Blue its largest lead of the half going into halftime.
The Big Blue had six blocked shots by halftime, led by two each by Howard and Cameron Benson.