Hamilton wins first district title in 20 years

CINCINNATI — The Hamilton Big Blue are district champions for the first time since 2004.

Marlon Reed and Peyton Davis each scored 12 points, and Andrea Holden’s first-quarter dunk jumpstarted Hamilton on its way to a 38-32 Division I district final victory over Greater Miami Conference foe Sycamore on Sunday night at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.

“The district final game is a special thing in Southwest Ohio,” Big Blue coach Kevin Higgins said. “As a player, we couldn’t get here. We got upset. It’s always kind of driven me as a coach to take programs that are not on the highest level and to try and get it to that level and see what you can do.”

The Big Blue (16-9) have won four in a row and will face Centerville in a regional semifinal on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Cintas Center.

“It feels good,” said Davis, who grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. “A lot of people doubted us. A lot of people didn’t think that we would be here, and we’re here. It’s a good feeling.”

The Aviators (19-7) beat Hamilton 54-43 on Jan. 23 at Sycamore. The Big Blue had lost six straight to their GMC rival heading into Sunday night.

“You just have to give them a lot of credit — coaching staff and players,” Sycamore coach Tim Austing said. “They played well. They had a good plan. They took and made good shots. They just came up with the big rebound or loose ball or whatever it took.

“It just seemed every time we felt like we were going to take back control, they just made the play. You’ve got to give them credit. It wasn’t any secret sauce. They just made big plays.”

Hamilton was powered in the first quarter by Holden’s mammoth slam that towered over Sycamore’s 6-foot-11 senior Raleigh Burgess. The Big Blue took an 8-6 lead into the second quarter.

“That thing should be on ESPN Top 10,” Higgins described the Holden dunk. “He posterized him. That was big time. That set the tone. We were a little … and he did that, our dudes feed it from that point on. We had a little edge to us. That was big time.

“I’ve told people, we see stuff in practice people don’t realize and sometimes in games. But that was about as good of a high school dunk as I’ve ever seen.”

Other than Sycamore tying it in three instances, Hamilton led the rest of the way. The Big Blue took a 16-14 advantage into the half and owned a 24-23 lead heading to the final eight minutes.

Reed knocked down a pair of big-time 3-pointers to hoist the Big Blue on offense down the stretch, and Davis grabbed some clutch boards while Holden sat on the bench in foul trouble for more than half the fourth.

“They just told me to be ready to shoot,” Reed said. “My time came, and I just shot it.”

“We’ve had that all year — guys have stepped up for us,” Higgins added. “Marlin’s done it in several games. Peyton had an unbelievable first half. That’s what you have to do in these games. That’s us. We don’t have one guy that’s going to come out and get 20 (points). That’s not us. It’s got to be a collective effort every time, and we had it.”

Holden finished with eight points for Hamilton. Samuel Imade scored a game-high 17 points to lead Sycamore, while Burgess had nine points and 10 rebounds.

“We really guarded well,” Higgins said. “I thought we did a great job on Burgess. We competed. We didn’t think we guarded them real well the first time. We just told our dudes, ‘Fly to the ball, be aggressive on defense, communicate with each other, stay connected.’”

Hamilton’s last district crown came in 2004, the same year the Big Blue beat Toledo St. John’s Jesuit for the Division I state title.

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