“We’ve bought in to what our coaches are telling us,” Landers said. “We play off instinct. We never let up. We never took our foot off the pedal — never got satisfied. That’s how you win big games like this.”
Landers scored a game-high 18 points and the Middies never trailed in a 47-38 victory over the Hamilton Big Blue at the Hamilton Athletic Center.
Middletown (12-6, 7-5 GMC) snapped a two-game losing streak and has beaten Hamilton five of the last seven. The Middies defeated the Big Blue 41-37 on Dec. 19 at Middletown.
Isaac Stamper had eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds for the Middies, who won the rebounding battle 32-19. Ny’Jhere Araujo added nine points off the bench.
“We knew Hamilton is a tough, defensive team. They have a lot of pieces that come together,” Middletown coach Bill Edwards Jr. said. “So for us to win, we knew we had to be able to attack their matchup zone — because they show a lot of man and then convert it to zone.”
Hamilton (11-7, 8-4 GMC) was led by Deon’dre Tillery, who scored 10 points and grabbed five boards. Austin Paige had eight points coming off the bench.
“We didn’t rebound. They killed us on the boards. That was the difference in the game,” Big Blue coach Kevin Higgins said. “Their effort was better than ours. Give them credit. Their guys were tenacious on the backboard. We didn’t meet that challenge.”
Higgins said it was the second straight Tuesday in which Hamilton missed out on an opportunity to make a big statement in the GMC. The Big Blue couldn’t get past league-leading Sycamore in a 54-43 defeat on the road last week.
Hamilton sits a game back from Sycamore and Lakota West, which are tied for the GMC lead at 9-3.
“We just didn’t meet that challenge — especially early,” said Higgins, whose squad trailed 11-3 after the first six minutes Tuesday. “We can’t fall behind. We’re not really capable. That’s a hard pill for us to swallow when you’re down — especially at the start of the game. We had chances.
“We defended well enough. We just didn’t finish the plays. After the first quarter, we defended well enough. Beginning, they just really went after it and showed that they were better than us.”
Chandler Shields threw down a breakaway dunk that got the visiting crowd on their feet and gave Middletown a 17-6 lead after one quarter.
“We did some strategy things that we thought would work against that matchup and it worked tonight,” Edwards said. “I think that was one of our best rebounding games. I tell our guys that we’re so athletic and ‘if you guys really lock in and guard for possessions — guard for long possessions. You are tough to score on.’
“I think our guys were locked from start to finish, and that was the difference for us.”
The Middies used a 15-3 run in the first half to build its largest lead at 20-6. The Big Blue went on a 10-2 run to close the gap. Middletown led 27-20 at the break.
Andrea Holden sunk a pair of free throws to pull Hamilton to within 29-27 with 3:55 left in the third, but that was as close as the Big Blue would get.
“We’ve got to be tougher. We’ve got to stick to what we do. We’ve got to rebound the basketball better. We’ve got to do little things better that will give us a chance,” Higgins said. “The game was ugly enough for us to win. But they wanted it more.
“That’s part of the game. If you beat a team twice, you’re better,” Higgins added. “That’s reality. I live in reality. I don’t live in make belief. They did what they needed to do to win games against us. Give them credit.”
Both teams get back to GMC action on Friday. Hamilton hosts Princeton, while Middletown travels to Lakota West.