LIBERTY TWP. — Hamilton High School’s boys basketball team departed Lakota East feeling like it can beat anybody in the Greater Miami Conference.
And why not?
“We just proved it,” senior guard D’Marco Howard said after Big Blue’s 65-62 road victory over the GMC leader Friday night in front of an enthusiastic crowd. “You can’t overlook us. We’re just going to keep on winning.”
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Howard tallied 21 points, six assists and five rebounds for a Hamilton squad that looked fantastic for almost three quarters, then nearly squandered a 22-point lead.
Trey Robinson had 10 of his 15 points in the second half, while Jaylen Robinson scored seven of his 10 points in the fourth period, as HHS savored its sixth win in the last seven games.
“I feel like we’ve played a thousand on the road, so winning here in this environment … it’s a great win for us,” said Hamilton coach Kevin Higgins, whose squad pushed its record to 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the GMC.
“They played a fabulous fourth quarter and we made some bad decisions, but it doesn’t matter,” he added. “When you’re on the road against one of the top teams in the city and you win at their place, you take it. We’re not giving it back.”
The Thunderhawks (8-3, 6-1) dropped into a three-way tie for first place in the conference with Mason and Oak Hills. East coach Clint Adkins admitted he wasn’t surprised by his team’s Friday performance.
“The word ‘humbled’ comes to mind,” Adkins said. “You start reading your press clippings, undefeated team in the GMC … the way we practiced yesterday, I knew it was coming. I even told a couple of their coaches before the game. I said, ‘Based on the way we practiced, I wouldn’t be shocked if you guys beat us by 20,’ and honestly, that’s what it was.
“Now to our credit, we came back and fought and had an opportunity to still win that game as poor as we played for basically 24 minutes. You start playing with a little bit of urgency and a little bit of toughness, and it’s amazing what happens. At the same time, you can’t get down 22 to anybody any good and expect to come back and win.”
Big Blue looked unstoppable in the third quarter, a stretch where Howard had eight points and a slam dunk that made it 46-24 with 2:03 on the clock.
East responded with a 7-1 spurt to finish the period and just kept charging forward. The Thunderhawks scored 31 points in the first three stanzas … and 31 in the last quarter.
“In the fourth quarter, we came out and played how we wanted to play,” said East senior forward Grant Spicer, who put up all 12 of his points in the last five minutes. “Credit to Hamilton because they came out and competed, but we definitely were far from our best in the first three quarters.
“We thought we were a little bit better than we are, and they did come in and humble us. But I think this will be good for us. We’ve got to get back to being who we are.”
Bash Wieland tossed in 27 points, 10 in the fourth stanza, to lead the Thunderhawks, and Adkins liked the late spark provided by guys like Nick Holtman and Jared McCorkle.
East narrowed the margin to three on a trio of occasions in the final 76 seconds, but Big Blue hit 5-of-6 free throws to keep the hosts at bay.
“I thought we played really good on offense,” said Higgins, noting that Hamilton’s plan was to spread the Thunderhawks out and then attack the rim. “I thought we defended well for three quarters. The fourth quarter we struggled, but a lot of that’s hard to guard in transition. They’re really good and just started making plays, and it happens. It’s a high school game. Every game’s unique.
“I felt like we had the right guys on the floor. They just needed to stay composed. I think we were really rattled, and then the last minute and a half, we got composed. We’ve got a lot of weaknesses, but I think we’re getting better.”
Howard, the GMC’s leading scorer, is trying to make up for lost time. HHS is 3-0 since he returned from a four-game absence.
“They were letting me go to the bucket and not really helping off the shooters. That made it easy for me,” said Howard, who was 7-of-9 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the line.
“(Howard) likes Lakota East. He’s had some unbelievable games against us,” Adkins said. “We had no answer for him tonight. He was tremendous.”
The East coach said the defeat should be a learning experience for his crew.
“Sometimes you need to eat a little humble pie to get ready for the rest of the season,” Adkins said. “I think teenage boys learn much more from failure than they do from success, unfortunately. We talk about doing things the East way around here. There was no E, A, S or T tonight. We’ll get back to that for sure on Sunday night. I can promise you that.”
Big Blue shot 57.1 percent from the field, 71.4 percent in the second half. They also had 10 of their 12 turnovers after the break.
Spicer converted all five of his field-goal attempts in the fourth period for the Thunderhawks, who shot 50 percent from the floor.
“Spice is our glue guy,” Adkins said. “Bash is our best player, but Grant Spicer might be our most important player because he’s so smart offensively and he’s always in position defensively. But the last two or three games, he’s been in foul trouble. We’ve got to keep him on the floor. He’s one of those guys that exudes toughness.”
Friday was the final game of the season for McCorkle, a junior transfer from Lakota West. He was only eligible for the first 11 contests.
Both teams will have GMC home games Tuesday. Hamilton meets Fairfield, while East faces Oak Hills.
Lakota East 8-10-13-31—62
HAMILTON (7-4, 4-3 GMC): Payton Pennington 1 0 3; Trey Robinson 6 3 15; Jaylen Robinson 3 3 10; Braedyn Jackson 1 0 2; Ke’Von Burnett 2 0 5; Kurtis Reid 2 0 5; Romello Diablo 2 0 4; D’Marco Howard 7 5 21. Totals: 24-11-65
LAKOTA EAST (8-3, 6-1 GMC): Alex Mangold 1 0 2; Bash Wieland 13 0 27; Will Johnston 2 0 5; Grant Spicer 5 1 12; Nate Johnson 1 0 2; Nick Holtman 1 4 6; Jared McCorkle 1 0 2; Kaden Fuhrmann 2 0 6. Totals: 26-5-62
3-pointers: H 6 (Howard 2, Burnett, J. Robinson, Reid, Pennington), L 5 (Fuhrmann 2, Wieland, Johnston, Spicer)