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» East rallies past West to clinch share of GMC crown
“The second quarter we had a nice run to get back in and take a little lead, and then we didn’t defend real well in that final segment. Offensively, the ball got stagnant, didn’t move, and that caused us to make offensive mistakes and they took advantage,” Hamilton coach Kevin Higgins said. “They played well at the end of the second quarter, beginning of the third, and that was the ballgame.”
After falling behind 8-0 in the first four minutes, Hamilton (12-8, 8-6) bounced back with the help of a 7-0 run to open the second quarter for a 15-10 lead, but the Big Blue didn’t have a field goal for the final five-and-a-half minutes of the half and Oak Hills saw its window of opportunity.
The Highlanders finished on a 15-3 run to carry a 25-18 lead into halftime, then kept the momentum going with the first five points of the second half and never let it get any closer than a five-point margin through the remainder of the game. They had a double-digit lead near the end of the third quarter before D’Marco Howard hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to keep it an evenly scored period.
Oak Hills closed out the game at the free-throw line, making 14-of-17 attempts to prevent Hamilton from chipping away the lead. Kelen Dietrich led the Highlanders with 17 points.
“We didn’t take care of the ball, they did a great job of defending, and I just thought they played better than we did,” Higgins said. “They played together. We got fractured a little bit. They just outplayed us and got to the free-throw line. They did a lot of good, solid, simple things. They passed the ball well, and we just didn’t do a great job tonight of defending. Credit to them.”
The Highlanders never felt comfortable with their lead, though — especially with Howard averaging close to 20 points a game and Jaylen Robinson and Trey Robinson also among the conference’s top 12 scorers. Howard finished with a game-high 23 points, including 16 in the second half, while Jaylen Robinson added 15 and Trey Robinson chipped in 10.
It just didn’t seem to matter what any of Hamilton’s shooters did in the fourth quarter as Oak Hills had an answer every time. The Highlanders also won the teams’ first meeting 45-42 on Dec. 14.
“We never felt in control because they have three great scorers and some other complementary players that can make shots,” Oak Hills coach Mike Price said. “We never felt comfortable, but we gained control. We started hot, turned the ball over a little bit, which they forced us into that, and they scored and took a little lead. But we came back, and I felt better about our team and tried to give them a little confidence at halftime.
“I told them, ‘We have to take care of the ball and we have to guard a little better,’ but taking care of the ball was key because we gave up a lot of live-ball turnovers and live-ball points. They are really good in transition, and they are hard to stop. The second half was just trying to guard because D’Marco went a little crazy on us.”
Higgins was hoping for a better result, especially in the final game before the Division I sectional seeding takes place Sunday. A win against a pretty quality Oak Hills team might have helped, but Hamilton “can’t dwell on it too much,” he said.
The Big Blue host GMC leader Lakota East on Tuesday, then close the regular season next Friday at Lakota West. Hamilton is the lone team in the conference to beat the Thunderhawks.
“We have to bounce back,” Higgins said. “Tuesday is Senior Night against another good team, and we have to be ready to go.”
Oak Hills will visit Princeton on Tuesday.
Oak Hills 10-15-16-23—64
OAK HILLS (14-6, 11-3 GMC): Cam Brandt 3 3 9; Zach Moeller 2 8 12; Jacob Berkemeier 6 4 16; Kelen Dietrich 5 3 17; Grant Rembold 1 0 2; Deandre Hayes 0 8 8. Totals: 17-26-64
HAMILTON (12-8, 8-6 GMC): Payton Pennington 1 0 3; Trey Robinson 5 0 10; Jaylen Robinson2 9 15; Kristian Walton 1 0 2; Romello Diablo 1 0 2; D’Marco Howard 9 4 23. Totals: 19-13-55
3-pointers: O 4 (Dietrich 4), H 4 (J. Robinson 2, Pennington, Howard)