Prep basketball: Last-second magic eludes Hamilton in loss to Princeton

HAMILTON — Another night, another Hamilton High School nail-biter.

The Big Blue’s recent trend of playing close games continued on Friday in a Greater Miami Conference boys basketball game against Princeton at the Hamilton Athletic Center. Unlike the Big Blue’s previous two games, both one-point wins, they were unable to pull this one out in the final seconds.

Senior D’Marco Howard’s contested, off-balance, left-handed leaner in the lane didn’t catch iron. Senior Payton Pennington came up with the ball, but he couldn’t connect on a jumper at the buzzer, allowing the Vikings to escape with a 44-43 win.


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“We’ve got to learn to finish,” Hamilton coach Kevin Higgins said. “We’ve got to finish plays.”

Junior guard Ke’Von Burnett scored 12 points to lead HHS, including a 3-pointer from the left corner with 11 seconds left in the third quarter that gave Hamilton a brief lead before Princeton junior Sterling Berkhalter nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer on his way to a team-high 11 points.

Howard, leading the GMC with an average of 20 points per game going into the Princeton matchup, added 10 while going 1-of-10 from the field against an aggressive, in-your-face Vikings defense.

Howard was 8-of-8 on free throws, helping the Big Blue go 15-of-17 while the Vikings were sinking just 8-of-22, but that advantage was offset by Princeton’s massive 16-2 margin in second-chance points. The Vikings outrebounded Hamilton 33-26, including 14 offensive rebounds.

“We didn’t rebound,” Higgins lamented. “Give them credit. They outworked us.”

That never was more crucial than in the last 13 seconds. The Vikings rebounded two consecutive missed front ends of bonus free-throw opportunities. They ended up committing a turnover, giving Hamilton the ball at Princeton’s end with eight seconds left, but not collecting one of those missed free throws cost the hosts valuable time.

Howard made two free throws with 15.9 seconds to cut Princeton’s lead to one, and the Big Blue jumped into a press that one official ruled forced a Viking turnover at Hamilton’s end before another official overruled the call, leaving the ball in Princeton’s hands.

The Vikings (12-5 overall, 9-3 in the GMC) was coming off a conference win over Sycamore after two straight losses. The Big Blue had won two straight. Hamilton’s last four games had been decided by a combined eight points — HHS (10-7, 7-5) was 2-2 over that stretch.

After a first quarter marred by a combined 12 personal fouls, Hamilton took a 14-10 lead on a Howard leaner with 5:34 left in the first half, but those were the last Big Blue points before halftime as Princeton finished with a 10-0 run.

Big Blue shot a combined 2-of-16 from the field in the second quarter as Princeton tightened up its interior defense, forcing Hamilton to settle for 3-pointers — Big Blue were 0-of-4 from beyond the arc in the quarter — or off-balance inside shots.

“We knew they were a good defensive team,” Higgins said. “We were better in the second half.”

Princeton’s margin would’ve been wider, but the Vikings missed 6-of-10 free throws in the quarter.

The Great Hamilton Home Stand is scheduled to continue on Saturday with a nonconference game against Harrison of the Southwest Ohio Conference. Tipoff for Hamilton’s seventh of 10 consecutive home games is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Princeton visits Mason on Tuesday.

Princeton 8-12-13-11—44

Hamilton 10-4-18-11—43

PRINCETON (12-5, 9-3 GMC): Kaleb Crawford 4 1 9; Deairius Randle 3 0 7; Micah Thomas 2 2 6; Greg Johnson 1 2 4; Sterling Berkhalter 4 2 11; Jaiem Thomas 3 1 7. Totals: 17-8-44

HAMILTON (10-7, 7-5 GMC): Payton Pennington 2 0 6; Trey Robinson 3 2 9; Jaylen Robinson 1 2 4; Kristian Walton 0 2 2; Ke’Von Burnett 5 1 12; D’Marco Howard 1 8 10. Totals: 12-15-43

3-pointers: P 2 (Randle, Berkhalter), H 4 (Pennington 2, T. Robinson, Burnett)

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