FORT THOMAS, Ky. — Ke’Von Burnett had a few anxious moments Saturday afternoon, but not many.
The Hamilton High School junior guard was a big hit in his varsity debut, ripping off 19 points and missing just one shot all day in a 76-65 road win over Highlands in an Ohio vs. Kentucky boys basketball contest.
“I was looking at the crowd and thought I was going to be nervous and missing everything,” Burnett said. “I was a little nervous the first minute, but then that went away. I just played and did me.”
BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE
Burnett and classmate Braedyn Jackson were both major impact players after becoming eligible Saturday. Burnett had five steals and two assists, while Jackson totaled 11 points, three boards and two steals.
Jaylen Robinson tossed in 26 points to lead the way for Big Blue, who evened their record at 3-3 with a weekend sweep of Fairfield and Highlands (6-3).
“That was a really good effort on our part,” Hamilton coach Kevin Higgins said. “Highlands is really good, and with it being back-to-back games, I’m really pleased. We were really, really efficient in what we were trying to do in the fourth quarter today. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re making strides.”
“Yesterday and today, we were just trying to come together as a team,” said Robinson, a senior guard. “It’s been hard not having any home games, but we’ve started to play well. Now we’ve just got to keep going. By the end of the year, we should be really good.”
Big Blue played all weekend without D’Marco Howard, the Greater Miami Conference’s leading scorer. Higgins said he’s not sure when he’ll return to action.
“He hasn’t been feeling well, so we’ll see what happens,” Higgins said.
The Burnett-Jackson combination may have seemed like it came out of nowhere — Saturday was Jackson’s varsity debut as well — but the Hamilton coach said he was well aware of their abilities.
“They played with us all summer, so we knew what we’d get when they played,” Higgins said. “They’re tremendous effort guys. They can defend. They’ve got the ability to knock down shots. They really do a lot of different things for us.”
Big Blue dominated when the game was on the line, finishing with a 20-7 surge. Ben Sisson scored down low to give the Bluebirds a 58-56 lead with 4:44 remaining, but Burnett responded with a 3-pointer 14 seconds later and the hosts never led again.
Sisson is a quality big man and paced Highlands with 18 points, four blocks and three rebounds. Sam Vinson (14), Tristan Thompson (12) and Will Salmon (12) also scored in double digits for the Bluebirds, who played without starting guard Ryan Leigh due to illness.
“They made plays and we didn’t, plain and simple,” Highlands coach Kevin Listerman said. “They flipped the game when they went to their press in the fourth quarter. We typically handle the ball better than we did. There were a couple turnovers and runouts and and-ones — they played very well down the stretch. They did a good job with their pressure of taking away our ability to get the ball inside.”
Robinson tallied 14 points and was 7-of-7 at the charity stripe in the fourth period for Hamilton, while Burnett contributed 10 points.
“I’ve been ready to go, just waiting to get on the court,” said Burnett, who was 4-of-4 from beyond the arc. “I don’t think anybody expected this out of me. I’m just going to play my role, get my teammates the ball and shoot when I’m open.”
It was a perfect 17-of-17 day at the line for Big Blue. Fourteen of those free throws came in the last quarter.
“We had the right guys shooting free throws,” Higgins said. “A lot of times that’s what it comes down to. I’m just glad they went in.”
Robinson’s 26 points represented a season-high total for him.
“The last few games Jaylen’s been really good at being under control, making good decisions and doing some things the right way,” Higgins said. “And he gets to the free-throw line all the time, which is important.”
Trey Robinson had eight points, four boards and three assists for Hamilton. Kurtis Reid added seven points and five rebounds.
“Trey was a little off today, but the way he attacks both ends of the floor helps us a lot too,” said Jaylen Robinson, who delivered five assists and grabbed three boards. “We’re so deep. It was just a good team effort and a good team win.”
Highlands shot 51.2 percent from the floor in the losing effort. The Bluebirds nearly doubled Big Blue in turnovers (14-8).
Listerman said his crew has the ability to be one of the best teams in northern Kentucky.
“We’re not quite there yet,” he said. “We’ve had some seniors who have had subpar days, and we’ve got to handle situations better. In all three of our losses, we’ve had leads in the third and fourth quarters.”
This game was scheduled because of a coaching connection — Listerman was Higgins’ assistant for six seasons at Colerain. Listerman said he’ll bring the Bluebirds to Hamilton next year.
“I’m very happy for Kevin,” Listerman said. “I know they’ve had little struggles getting out of the gate, but it’s great to see some success for him and changing the culture and getting the kids to believe in what he’s doing.”
Highlands is headed for Freeport, Fla., and will play in the Hilton Sandestin Beach Basketball Blowout, opening against Troy (Ala.) Charles Henderson on Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
Big Blue will host Lebanon (3-4) at Garfield Middle School on Friday. Higgins was the Warriors’ head coach for the last four seasons, and his old team’s losses have come by a total of 13 points.
“It’ll be a very weird game for me, yes,” Higgins said. “I know all those kids and they compete really hard and they can shoot the 3, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
HAMILTON (3-3): Payton Pennington 1 0 3; Trey Robinson 4 0 8; Kurtis Reid 2 2 7; Jackson Lewis 1 0 2; Jaylen Robinson 7 10 26; Braedyn Jackson 4 2 11; Ke’Von Burnett 6 3 19. Totals: 25-17-76
HIGHLANDS (6-3): Tristan Thompson 3 5 12; Sam Vinson 5 3 14; Nate Roberts 2 0 5; Ben Sisson 6 6 18; Jacob Brass 1 0 2; Grady Cramer 1 0 2; Will Salmon 4 3 12. Totals: 22-17-65
3-pointers: 9 (Burnett 4, J. Robinson 2, Pennington, Reid, Jackson), H 4 (Thompson, Vinson, Roberts, Salmon)
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