Middletown’s Aaron Jones dribbles the ball while being defended by Hamilton’s D’Marco Howard during Friday night’s game at Wade E. Miller Arena in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Prep basketball: Middies suddenly soaring, sink Hamilton in GMC opener

MIDDLETOWN — There are a lot of steps that still have to be taken. Middletown High School’s boys basketball team isn’t close to where coach Darnell Hoskins wants and expects it to be.

But this can safely be said: The Middies are starting to make a few waves.

Middletown is off to a 3-0 start and conquered one of the Greater Miami Conference’s most highly regarded units Friday night, delighting a large home crowd by dispatching Hamilton 64-56 in a GMC opener at Wade E. Miller Arena.

BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE

» Nick Graham’s photo gallery from Hamilton-Middletown

» Wieland collects 26 points, East outlasts Fairfield in OT

» Fenwick wins opener, holds off Edgewood with late run

» Balanced Badin improves to 2-0 by fighting off Elder

» Marc Pendleton’s photo gallery from Middletown-Dunbar

“Coach told us we weren’t matching their energy at first, but once we got our energy going and got into it with the crowd, everything was flowing as one,” said senior guard Aaron Jones, who tallied a career-high 20 points and added seven rebounds to the winning effort. “Once you get in a rhythm, the basket just looks bigger and the shots start falling more.

“We’re turning the corner. Day by day, practice by practice, quarter by quarter. We’re just changing the culture.”

Hoskins, who watched his team go 14-33 in his first two seasons at the helm, said the Middies got better and stronger during a spirited offseason.

“Probably nobody expected this but us, and I’m cool with that,” Hoskins said. “You can just see the transition taking place day in and day out in practice, and that’s truly where you get better.

Middletown High School senior guard Shandon Morris drives for a basket and is fouled by Hamilton’s Kurtis Reid on Friday night at Wade E. Miller Arena in Middletown. The host Middies won 64-56.

“They surely enjoy being on this side of things as opposed to the lopsided end of it, and once you get a taste of that, you don’t want to turn back. I think me and my staff can get some mileage out of that. I don’t have any problem getting their attention in practice anymore.”

Middletown created some separation with an 11-2 spurt late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, expanding its lead to 54-42 with 5:19 remaining.

The Middies secured the win at the charity stripe. They were 10-of-11 in the last stanza, 15-of-16 overall, and ended a five-game losing streak in the Butler County rivalry series.

“The seed was planted last year after we lost to them twice again,” Hoskins said. “We said, ‘Hey, if you want a better outcome, you’ve got to do different things in the offseason.’ Our kids did a tremendous job with things they were weaker at. We only missed one free throw all night. We didn’t turn the ball over but three times in the second half. We’re a year older, a year stronger. We’re physically more equipped to handle the rigors that this game brings.

Middletown’s Shandon Morris soars for a basket over Hamilton’s Kurtis Reid during Friday night’s game at Wade E. Miller Arena in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

“They have bought into what I’m selling, and I sell the defensive end of the floor every single night. We wouldn’t have won that game mentally last year. Are we a good team? I wouldn’t go that far yet. That’s a stretch. We’re a team that’s starting to learn how to win, and I’ll take that right now because we’re building a foundation here. There ain’t no magical potion. You’ve got to roll your sleeves up and go get it done with no excuses. That’s who and what I am, and if you don’t like it, that’s still what you’re going to get.”

Rob Thompson, a sophomore guard who transferred from Lakota East last year, poured in 20 points in his varsity debut for the Middies. Senior KeiAunte Powell chipped in 10 points.

Hamilton (1-1) got double-digit scoring from D’Marco Howard (19) and Jaylen Robinson (11), but lost the battle of the boards and watched Middletown notch 17 points off HHS turnovers.

“They outplayed us … they outworked us … it was pretty simple,” first-year Big Blue coach Kevin Higgins said. “They did all the little things, and we turned it over and were terrible on the boards. Every loss is my fault. I didn’t get them ready enough, so it’s back to work.

Middletown’s Chris Stallworth tries to block a pass by Hamilton’s Payton Pennington on Friday night at Wade E. Miller Arena in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

“We’ve got to be tougher. We have to trust each other better. I don’t look at anything as a step back. It’s a step forward because you’ve got to learn how to deal with adversity. Every game in high school is a unique challenge and obstacle, and you have to learn how to deal with those challenges.”

Howard scored 13 second-half points, yet he was dismayed by his seven turnovers and only grabbing three rebounds. He lost two points when he was twice whistled for lane violations on free throws — he stepped over the foul line both times.

“We can’t have stuff like that,” said Howard, a 6-foot-2 senior guard. “If I do those things better, I believe we win that game, so I put that on myself.

“We came in thinking we were going to get an easy dub, and obviously we can’t do that. We’re going to live and learn from this, and we’re going to get better. I believe we’ve got one of the best coaches in the state of Ohio with great talent. I feel like we’ll be fine.”

Thompson was the night’s biggest surprise. The 6-0 guard had to sit out the last nine games in 2017-18 and the first two games this year because of transfer rules, but he was a dynamo when he came off the bench Friday.

Middletown’s KeiAunte Powell defends Hamilton’s D’Marco Howard during Friday night’s game at Wade E. Miller Arena in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

“He gave us a huge lift right away when we needed it,” Hoskins said. “He’s a shotmaker, he’s mature beyond his years, and he gives us an extra ball handler. He also solidifies a class that I feel is the strongest in our school. By the time those sophomores become seniors, I think we have a chance to be pretty good.”

Hoskins praised the improved rebounding toughness displayed by Johrdon Mumford, who grabbed 10 boards. Chance Walker scored just one point for the Middies, yet contributed five rebounds, three steals and three blocks.

“We just tried not to fall into their hands,” Jones said. “We did the things that coach told us to do. We never fell under pressure. We didn’t fold. We got it done.”

Middletown will travel to Lima Senior on Saturday, while Hamilton visits Princeton on Tuesday.

Hamilton 12-11-17-16—56

Middletown 8-17-20-19—64

HAMILTON (1-1, 0-1 GMC): Trey Robinson 2 3 7; Kurtis Reid 3 1 9; Jackson Lewis 1 0 2; Kristian Walton 2 0 6; D’Marco Howard 8 3 19; Jaylen Robinson 4 1 11; Romello Diablo 1 0 2. Totals: 21-8-56

MIDDLETOWN (3-0, 1-0 GMC): Jayden Jackson 1 2 4; KeiAunte Powell 3 4 10; Aaron Jones 7 4 20; Chance Walker 0 1 1; Johrdon Mumford 2 0 4; Shandon Morris 1 1 3; Rob Thompson 7 3 20; Chris Stallworth 1 0 2. Totals: 22-15-64

3-pointers: H 6 (Reid 2, J. Robinson 2, Walton 2), M 5 (Thompson 3, Jones 2)

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