The Middies got the slower pace they wanted most of the night and frustrated the hosts with their 1-3-1 zone defense, but Middletown suffered through a late scoring drought and committed 17 turnovers.
D’Marco Howard added 14 points for Hamilton, which moved to 8-4 overall and 4-3 in the GMC. Kurtis Reid contributed 7 points and seven rebounds.
“To be honest, we got lucky because I think they played pretty well,” Big Blue coach Sean Van Winkle said. “Our guys have responded lately to acceptance of coaching and stuff like that, but looking forward, we’ve got some really tough games coming ahead. It’s really a test to see where we’re going to be at that point.”
HHS will travel to Oak Hills on Friday. Its next four games will be against Mason, Fairfield, Princeton and Lakota East.
Robinson said Friday’s contest is huge. “That’s really going to show me what we are as a team,” he added.
Oak Hills is also the next opponent for Middletown (2-11, 1-7), which will hit the road to meet the Highlanders on Tuesday.
Middies coach Darnell Hoskins felt like his squad let one get away Wednesday, and it happened in a familiar way.
“If we don’t turn it over, we win,” Hoskins said. “I thought the game plan that we had was par for the course. I thought we controlled most of the game. I didn’t want to do anything different at the end because that’s what got us the lead and allowed us to play at the tempo we desired to play at.
Hamilton’s Payton Pennington (0), Cameron Benson (22) and Trey Robinson react as Middletown’s E.J. Williams (34) decides what to do with the ball during Wednesday night’s game at the Hamilton Athletic Center. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
“Our inexperience taking care of the basketball is our Achilles heel and has been all year long. I think the guys in that locker room really underestimate the value of possessions. Based on our personnel, we must play a possession game. Shorten the game, shorten the possessions … that gives us our best chance to win.”
E.J. Williams was a monster in the middle for Middletown. Listed on the roster at 6-foot-10 and 315 pounds — his mother said he’s a half inch short of 7-0 and weighs 290 pounds — Williams piled up 16 points in the first half. He finished with 19 and only took two shots after intermission.
Van Winkle credited Bryan Henderson for his defensive work against Williams.
“The only real halftime adjustment we made defensively was honestly trying to almost triple-team E.J., and Henderson led the charge,” Van Winkle said. “We left some guys open and they hit some 3s, but we just felt like we had to focus on E.J.”
Middletown coach Darnell Hoskins glances at the scoreboard during Wednesday night’s game against Hamilton at the Hamilton Athletic Center. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
The Middies made four treys in the second half. KeiAunte Powell put in a trio of 3-balls and totaled 11 points.
Middletown took a 41-40 lead on Broderick McGhee’s two free throws with 4:05 left. Big Blue responded with an 8-0 run that stretched into the final 40 seconds.
“They stymied us with their zone. We just kind of found a way to speed them up a little bit and get some fast breaks in the fourth quarter,” Van Winkle said. “It all started with us getting defensive stops.”
Hamilton shot 27.8 percent from the floor in the first three periods. The hosts converted 6 of 7 field goals in the last stanza.
“When our hands are up and we’re in our rotations, that is a very difficult zone to play against,” Hoskins said. “It’s big, and as the game progresses, the zone gets smarter. There were very few times where Hamilton actually sat down and scored against the zone.”
The Middies didn’t help their own cause by sinking only 8 of 17 foul shots (HHS was 14 of 18). Jawunn Bailey had eight boards and Williams added six in the losing effort.
Middletown’s Broderick McGhee (35) is about to put up a shot as Hamilton’s Bryan Henderson (11) and Trey Robinson watch, along with the Middies’ Chris Stallworth (40), during Wednesday night’s game at the Hamilton Athletic Center. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
“Our kids let the emotion of the game capture them,” said Hoskins, whose squad dropped a 64-58 decision to HHS on Dec. 8 in the final varsity game at Wade E. Miller Gym. “All we can do is keep grinding. I think we’re getting better defensively night in and night out.
“The whole thing is a process. I don’t want to be great early, I don’t want to be great in the middle — I want to be great late. We need our goal to be a tough out in the tournament. We can do that if we take care of the basketball.”
Robinson has tallied 78 points in the last three games for Big Blue. He’s shooting 51 percent from the field and 81.3 percent from the line.
“My shot’s just falling right now,” Robinson said. “I’m just going to keep attacking and keep winning.”
Cameron Benson grabbed six rebounds for Hamilton. Henderson had 5 points and five boards, while Trey Robinson and Payton Pennington chipped in four and three steals, respectively. Pennington also had three assists.
Van Winkle had special praise for Reid, a freshman who has worked his way into the starting lineup.
“Kurtis has done some things that statistically don’t show up a lot,” the HHS coach said. “He’s becoming one of our best defenders. We’re trying to utlilize his athletic ability as much as we can.”
MIDDLETOWN (2-11, 1-7 GMC): KeiAunte Powell 4 0 11, Keion Williams 1 0 2, Aaron Jones 1 1 3, E.J. Williams 7 5 19, Blake Marshall 1 0 3, Broderick McGhee 1 2 4, Chris Stallworth 1 0 2. Totals: 16-8-44
HAMILTON (8-4, 4-3 GMC): Jaylen Robinson 5 10 21, Kurtis Reid 2 3 7, D’Marco Howard 6 0 14, Bryan Henderson 2 1 5, Trey Robinson 1 0 2. Totals: 16-14-49
3-pointers: M 4 (Powell 3, Marshall), H 3 (Howard 2, J. Robinson)