Prep basketball: Hamilton survives ‘tough times,’ finally defeats Mason

Hamilton’s boys basketball team is alone in fifth place in the Greater Miami Conference after defeating visiting Mason 52-51 on Friday night at the Hamilton Athletic Center.
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Hamilton’s boys basketball team is alone in fifth place in the Greater Miami Conference after defeating visiting Mason 52-51 on Friday night at the Hamilton Athletic Center.

HAMILTON — When it came to crunch time between Mason and Hamilton on Friday night, the visiting Comets had no answers for D’Marco Howard.

The 6-foot-2 Big Blue senior guard provided Hamilton’s final six points, including two go-ahead free throws with 17.9 seconds left, and a swarming defense kept Mason from getting a decent shot the rest of the way as the Big Blue held on for a 52-51 Greater Miami Conference boys basketball win at the Hamilton Athletic Center.

“I’ve just got to make it,” Howard, who finished with a game-high 22 points, said about his mind-set going into the go-ahead free throws. “I’ve been here before. You’ve just got to believe it’s going in.”

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The Comets, who fought back from a six-point fourth-quarter deficit on 3-pointers from senior guards Landen Lang and Ethan Howard and grabbed a 51-50 lead on another Lang 3-pointer with 1:25 left, still had a shot to pull out a win. But they couldn’t get a shot off in the next 17 seconds before sophomore forward Matthew Smith’s tip of junior forward Jack Cooper’s inbounds pass from the baseline clanged off the rim.

“I don’t know how memorable it is,” said Hamilton coach Kevin Higgins, whose team went into the game with just nine available players from a roster decimated by injuries and illness. “It’s just a great win for these guys. They competed. They played through some tough times.”

Hamilton turned up its defensive intensity a notch after the first quarter and forced 11 Mason turnovers over the last three periods, negating the Comets’ whopping 31-19 rebound advantage in a taut game that featured 14 lead changes and no lead wider than six points.

“I thought they turned up the pressure on us, but I thought we handled it for the most part,” said Mason coach Greg Richards, whose team fell to 11-3 overall and 7-3 in the GMC with a second consecutive loss. “We got a little lackadaisical at both ends in the second quarter. The second quarter was bad for us.

“They did everything on the scouting report. We had to get out on 3s. We had to take charges. We didn’t stick our nose in there.”

Senior guard Payton Pennington also reached double figures with 11 for Hamilton (9-6, 6-4), which snapped a two-game losing streak. Long finished with 21 and Howard with 11 for Mason.

Hamilton’s win snapped a 10-game losing streak in the series, dating back to the Big Blue’s last win, 46-40 on Dec. 14, 2012.

“This is a great win,” Higgins said. “It’s Mason.”

“We were just trying to get a win over a very good team,” Howard said.

Long connected on three 3-pointers and scored nine points to help Mason take a 16-10 lead into the second quarter. Sophomore forward Ben Stuart added a 12-foot jumper from the lane at the buzzer for the Comets.

The Big Blue, which went just 4-of-12 from the field in the first quarter, hit 6-of-11 in the second period on the way to a 26-25 halftime lead. Pennington scored five of his eight first-half points in the second quarter while Mason was going 2-of-7 from the field.

Junior guard Trey Robinson scored Hamilton’s last five points of the third quarter on a dunk and a traditional three-point play to give the Big Blue a 42-40 lead going into the fourth stanza.

HHS will face Middletown on Tuesday in the fifth of 10 consecutive home games. Mason visits Colerain on Tuesday.

Mason 16-9-15-11—51

Hamilton 10-16-16-10—52

MASON (11-3, 7-3 GMC): Landen Long 6 4 21; Ben Stuart 1 0 2; Matthew Smith 2 2 6; Ethan Howard 4 0 11; Jack Cooper 3 1 7; Matt Minick 2 0 4. Totals: 18-7-51

HAMILTON (9-6, 6-4 GMC): Payton Pennington 4 0 11; Trey Robinson 3 2 8; Kristian Walton 1 1 3; Braedyn Jackson 1 0 2; Ke’Von Burnett 2 0 6; D’Marco Howard 8 6 22. Totals: 19-9-52

3-pointers: M 8 (Long 5, Howard 3), H 5 (Pennington 3, Burnett 2)

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