Efficiency has become the buzzword for Lebanon High School’s boys basketball team.
The Warriors started 1-8 last year and made a significant turnaround by switching to the Princeton offense, finishing 8-15. That trend is continuing in a big way this season.
Harrison Hookfin (19), Drew Sekerak (14) and Brendan Lamb (12) topped the scoring Friday night as Lebanon improved to 9-1 by fighting off visiting Hamilton 63-55 in a Greater Western Ohio Conference/Greater Miami Conference clash.
“It was a real easy sell last year because I said, ‘Would you rather play defense or offense?’ ” Warriors coach Kevin Higgins said of convincing his teenagers that patient, deliberate offense is the best way to go. “Inherently, our kids are really unselfish. They don’t have big egos. They just want to win.
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“I know everyone brings up last year’s start, but we had no one returning from the year before except one kid who played some. So it was kind of expected that we’d struggle. We didn’t want to struggle that bad, but we did.”
Lebanon never trailed Friday, pushed its lead to 46-35 by starting the second half with a 13-4 spurt, then weathered a Big Blue charge down the stretch.
The Warriors are shooting 53.4 percent from the field this season. On Friday, the hosts made 63.9 percent of their field goals.
“We got a little rushed in the first half, and that’s why it was a little closer than we wanted,” said Hookfin, a 6-foot-6 senior forward who added eight rebounds and five assists. “But in the second half, we kind of got back to playing our basketball.
“We pride ourselves on taking good, high-efficient shots. It’s all about playing a system. I’ve got to trust the process, and it’s working. We’re 9-1, so I can’t argue with that.”
Hamilton (4-4) got within 54-50 on a Jaylen Robinson 3-pointer with 4:56 remaining. But Lebanon’s patience and free-throw shooting won out from there.
“They were very disciplined at the end of the game,” HHS coach Sean Van Winkle said. “Kevin is doing an incredible job with that program. It reminds me of teams we play in our conference like Mason and Oak Hills. They’re disciplined on offense and defense. Even the shots that we made tonight were tough ones.”
It wasn’t like Big Blue’s offense was bad. Hamilton’s field-goal percentage was 53.7, and D’Marco Howard (20) and Robinson (12) were the leading point men.
The Warriors did misfire twice on the front end of the bonus in the final 86 seconds, but they were 7 of 10 at the line in the fourth quarter and 14 of 19 overall.
“Sometimes it’s not flashy, but we did score 63 points. And we do run at times,” Higgins said. “We don’t talk about the score. If the score’s high, great. But we look at our efficiency in shooting.
“We were able to do what we’ve been able to do most of the year, which is control the tempo and get the shots we want. Hamilton’s got some really good scorers. I wouldn’t say we were great defensively, but we were good enough.”
Zach Huffman contributed 8 points and six boards for Lebanon. Sekerak collected four steals.
The Princeton offense emphasizes constant motion and picks, passing, backdoor cuts and teamwork. Higgins said it’s simply the best fit for the kids in his program.
“It helps our defense a little bit at times too,” he added. “It makes the other team a little bit more impatient and take quicker shots because they didn’t have the ball for a while.”
HHS has lost four of its last five games. Van Winkle said his team needs to do some soul-searching.
“A lot of times when you’re in a funk and losing games, especially a lot of tight games, it’s easy to start pointing fingers in one direction or the other,” the Hamilton coach said. “The only way to get out of it is to get closer and closer together. We’ve got to do that as a staff and as a team. We’ve got to believe in each other more than we ever have before.
“That’s going to be a huge challenge for us because it takes buy-in from all angles. Am I worried about it? I am a little bit. Is it my job to get us there? It is. To be quite honest, it’s a situation as a head coach that I’ve never been in before. But that’s why I’m in coaching, to take these challenges and do what’s right with the team and teach these guys life lessons.
“Right now our back’s against the wall, and we know it. We’ll see how we respond. We’re not going to do it in a negative way. We’re going to keep working hard and try to be a lot more together.”
Both teams are off until next Friday. Big Blue will host Lakota West, while Lebanon visits Springfield.
HAMILTON (4-4): Payton Pennington 2 2 6, Jaylen Robinson 5 0 12, Kurtis Reid 3 2 9, Cameron Benson 2 0 4, D’Marco Howard 8 3 20, Bryan Henderson 1 0 2, Trey Robinson 1 0 2. Totals: 22-7-55
LEBANON (9-1): Harrison Hookfin 6 7 19, Drew Sekerak 6 2 14, Zach Huffman 3 1 8, Brendan Lamb 4 4 12, Luke Arnold 2 0 4, Sammy Stotts 2 0 6. Totals: 23-14-63
3-pointers: H 4 (J. Robinson 2, Reid, Howard), L 3 (Stotts 2, Huffman)