Hamilton’s defensive game plan for its Division I tournament matchup with La Salle on Tuesday was pressure.
It worked in a way. The 11th-seeded Big Blue forced the ninth-seeded Lancers into 16 turnovers, leading to a 15-4 Hamilton advantage in points off turnovers.
The plan also backfired a few times as La Salle got loose for at least four backdoor layups, the last one giving the Lancers a 56-53 lead with 3:38 to go. The Big Blue was forced to foul and La Salle converted enough free throws to pull away to a 67-57 win.
“They were good at that,” Hamilton coach Sean Van Winkle said. “That’s part of their offense. You’ve got to pressure underneath. Sometimes, we got too far over the top.”
La Salle’s Riley Haubner, the Greater Catholic League South Division’s leading scorer with an average of 21.1 points per game, finished with a game-high 26, including nine on 10 free throws in the final 1:28. Haubner finished 13-of-15 from the line in the game.
The Big Blue didn’t help itself by not scoring from the field in the last 4:16 and going 4-for-18 on 3-pointers in the game.
“We had a lot of open shots at the end,” Van Winkle said. “We just weren’t able to convert.”
Junior D’Marco Howard led the Big Blue with 24 points and classmate Jaylon Robinson added 17. Hamilton lost its last four games of the season, but the 12-11 Big Blue finished above .500 for the first time since going 17-6 in the 2006-2007 season.
“Hats off to those guys,” he said about his team. “We’re proud of where the program is. The future is bright. This was a fun group to coach.”
Hamilton seniors Zack Morgan, Bryan Henderson, Cameron Benson and Hosea Burnett wrapped up their careers.
“Hopefully, the program made them better people,” Van Winkle said.
Benson scored seven points in his finale.
La Salle (15-9), which has won five straight games and seven of its last eight, is scheduled to play sixth-seeded Lakota East (15-8) for a sectional championship Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Hamilton. The Thunderhawks advanced with a 56-29 win over 17th-seeded Milford on Tuesday at Hamilton.
La Salle’s win completed a GCL South doubleheader sweep of the Greater Miami Conference at Fairfield. In the first game, Elder’s Jake O’Brien drove the right baseline for a layup with two seconds left to lift the 12th-seeded Panthers to a 60-58 upset of fourth-seeded Mason. The layup capped Elder’s comeback from a 47-41 deficit going into the fourth quarter.
Howard scored five straight Hamilton points to help the Big Blue to its widest lead, 13-6, with 3:40 left in the first quarter. Howard scored nine points and Robinson and Benson each added seven to help Hamilton lead, 28-27, at halftime.
La Salle took a 41-36 lead with 3:56 left in the third quarter on Haubner’s personal 5-0 run.