The Middies responded by getting the ball quickly down the floor after a pair of timeouts, but Big Blue’s Payton Pennington came up with a steal to seal the win.
Howard scored 14 points and Trey Robinson added 11 for HHS, which moved to 10-6 overall and 7-4 in the Greater Miami Conference. Middletown — a 64-56 winner over Hamilton on Dec. 7 — slipped to 6-11, 2-9.
“We talk about resiliency,” Big Blue coach Kevin Higgins said. “We have to overcome things, and I think we’re becoming a little tougher. I think it’s good for the kids to go through this and still find ways to win games. Winning two games by one point back to back is great for them.”
HHS played without Kurtis Reid (injury) and Jackson Lewis (illness), and Jaylen Robinson came off the bench after missing the last game because he was sick.
Robinson and Howard led Big Blue down the stretch. They combined for 13 of Hamilton’s 15 fourth-quarter points.
“Me and Marco had to make plays for ourselves or make plays for other people,” Robinson said. “It was either me or him at the end. Trey can do that too, but me and Marco felt like one of us had to go and make a shot. Every game from now on means something to me because it’s my last year playing on this court. I’m going to go hard every time I’m out here.”
Hamilton’s Jaylen Robinson (left) and Trey Robinson (1) apply defensive pressure to Middletown’s Aaron Jones (4) on Tuesday night at the Hamilton Athletic Center. HHS rallied for a 48-47 victory. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
Higgins wasn’t surprised by the performance of his two best players at crunch time.
“Sometimes at the end of the game you try to get the ball to your best guys and just say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to make a play,’ and Jaylen made a great one,” Higgins said. “He made an incredible move on that last shot.”
The Middies got a career-high 14 points from Johrdon Mumford, 11 from Aaron Jones and nine from Kadar Gardner in the emotional defeat.
“It was up-tempo and energetic the whole game. I’d say it was interesting to watch for the fans,” Mumford said. “We had a big lead, but we get too satisfied. That’s one thing we’ll work on going into the tournament.”
It was the Middletown debut for Gardner, a senior guard who just became eligible after his transfer from Dunbar.
“He’ll certainly help us down the stretch,” Middies coach Darnell Hoskins said. “He helps our confidence. He helps our ball handling. Defensively, he’s a pest.”
Hoskins conceded his team made some critical mistakes, but he actually liked the overall showing.
“We played well enough to win. We just didn’t,” Hoskins said. “That kid made a helluva shot at the end of the game, twisting, over the back. What can you say? He made a tough shot. It happens.
“The thing I’m most proud of is we positioned ourselves to be able to win the basketball game. It’s about progression for me. We’re better this week than we were last week, and that’s how I measure a team. Guys are being selfless. I see us trending in the right direction.”
Middletown seemed to be in control of the contest midway through the third quarter. HHS looked lost on the back side of a 34-20 score.
But Big Blue started to fluster the visitors by cranking up the defensive pressure. By the end of the stanza, the margin was down to 38-33.
“They played really, really well and kind of made us play bad, so I give them a ton of credit,” Higgins said. “We went to a 1-3-1, and we don’t play zone at all. It was something we went to out of desperation to get some energy. I think it helped flip the momentum.”
“We had back-to-back turnovers when we did finally build the 14-point lead, which created a little momentum for them,” Hoskins said. “They managed the clock well to creep back in it, and we had some untimely unforced turnovers where our kids didn’t use the best judgment.”
Mumford had 10 points in the third period. The 6-foot-4 sophomore missed one shot all night — a free throw. He was 7-of-7 from the floor.
“It was something new … I haven’t had that feeling in me,” Mumford said. “I guess I took advantage of the moment and tried to do as much as I could for the team. There wasn’t much to it. I was just open and taking the shots the coaches told me to take.”
Jones made a foul shot with 39.3 seconds remaining to push Middletown ahead 47-46. Hamilton missed two free throws 12 seconds later, but caught a break when the Middies threw the ball away on an inbounds play with 23.1 ticks left.
Both teams shot just under 50 percent from the field. Jones had six rebounds and five assists for the Middies.
On Friday, Middletown hosts Lakota West, while Hamilton plays its sixth straight home game against Princeton.
“Going into the season, everybody knew we were going to be a really good team,” Jaylen Robinson said. “Now we’re starting to get things back. When we’re full strength, I think we can play with anybody and beat anybody. We’re planning to keep racking up wins.”
MIDDLETOWN (6-11, 2-9 GMC): Kei’Aunte Powell 0 1 1; Aaron Jones 4 3 11; Rob Thompson 1 0 3; Chance Walker 1 0 2; Johrdon Mumford 7 0 14; Shandon Morris 2 0 5; Kadar Gardner 4 0 9; Chris Stallworth 1 0 2. Totals: 20-4-47
HAMILTON (10-6, 7-4 GMC): Payton Pennington 1 1 4; Trey Robinson 5 1 11; D’Marco Howard 4 6 14; Jaylen Robinson 6 3 15; Kristian Walton 1 1 4. Totals: 17-12-48
3-pointers: M 3 (Morris, Gardner, Thompson), H 2 (Pennington, Walton)