- Rick Cassano Staff Writer
Hamilton High School’s boys basketball team managed only two blocked shots Friday night, but they came at the perfect time.
Cameron Benson got a hand on two Lakota East field-goal attempts in the final five seconds as Big Blue survived a frantic finish to post a 47-45 Greater Miami Conference victory at the Hamilton Athletic Center.
“Statistically, you don’t always see the stuff that Cam does because he does play really, really good defense,” said Hamilton coach Sean Van Winkle, whose crew improved to 10-7 overall and 6-6 in the GMC. “It was nice to see those two blocks at the end for him.”
FRIDAY NIGHT COVERAGE
Benson, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, came up with both of his blocks on short-range tries, rejecting Jarrett Cox and then Jackson See to preserve the win.
“They were bringing the ball down the court, and I just stayed and helped. I make sure I’ve got my teammates’ back always,” Benson said. “I knew I couldn’t let ’em score. I was just praying that they didn’t call a foul.”
Does that mean he got away with a foul?
“No, I didn’t foul,” Benson said. “I don’t think I did.”
Benson had 10 points, seven rebounds and four steals for HHS, while D’Marco Howard put up 20 points and delivered the game-winning shot, a 3-pointer with 15 seconds remaining.
East, a 53-30 winner over Hamilton on Dec. 22, brought the ball down the floor for the last time after a timeout with 10.2 seconds on the clock.
“We fought back and got some stops, but at the end of the day, if you turn it over 18 times on the road and you give up 12 offensive rebounds, you don’t deserve to win basketball games,” Thunderhawks coach Clint Adkins said. “We were there, but even if we win that game, it definitely would’ve been a little fool’s gold.”
Cox paced East with 16 points and six boards, despite playing at less than full strength because of lingering ankle problems.
“A 65 percent Jarrett Cox is better than most 100 percent guys, but still, you could tell he was bothered by it,” Adkins said. “His game is being explosive and attacking the rim, and when you don’t have that burst, that first step, it obviously hurts him.”
Big Blue’s biggest lead was 30-20 midway through the third period. Howard’s jumper in the lane capped a 16-point run to create that margin.
The Thunderhawks (11-7, 8-4) clawed back to go up 44-43 and 45-44 in the last minute.
“We missed a lot of shots early in the first half, but they were good looks,” Van Winkle said. “So we didn’t panic. We stayed with what we were doing. Great players make great plays. They went to one of their best players at the end, and we went to one of ours. Luckily we were able to let D’Marco make a 3.
“I felt like we played pretty well as a team tonight. We didn’t turn the ball over as much as we have been lately, and I think forcing 18 turnovers against a team that doesn’t do that very often says a lot about our team defense. I’ve got a lot of respect for what they run on offense.”
Hamilton shot 31.7 percent from the floor and made 17 of 24 free throws. East made 37.5 percent of its field goals and sank 18 of 24 foul shots.
Jaylen Robinson contributed 10 points and Howard added four steals for Big Blue, who will visit Harrison on Saturday night.
“It was a great team win because everybody was involved,” Benson said. “We were talking about how we were always beating teams that maybe weren’t as good as we are. We know Lakota East is a very good team.”
“We’d lost three of our last four and, to be honest, we weren’t playing very good basketball either,” Van Winkle said. “We’ve got to find our way back to playing a little bit better. We’ve got to have good practices. It all starts there, and we haven’t had great practices. Hopefully this is the type of game that will kind of propel our guys.”
Bash Wieland chipped in 8 points and four rebounds for the Thunderhawks, and Alex Mangold grabbed eight boards. East will be at home against Mason on Tuesday night.
“I like this team. It’s a team that could make some noise in the tournament,” Adkins said. “But if that’s what our execution is going to be moving forward, we’re in some serious trouble.”
Lakota East 9-11-5-20—45
LAKOTA EAST (11-7, 8-4 GMC): Jalen Peck 0 4 4, Jackson See 1 2 5, Alex Mangold 0 3 3, Bash Wieland 2 4 8, Jarrett Cox 6 3 16, Will Johnston 1 2 5, Kyrell Metts 2 0 4. Totals: 12-18-45
HAMILTON (10-7, 6-6 GMC): Payton Pennington 1 0 2, Jaylen Robinson 2 5 10, Kurtis Reid 1 0 2, Trey Robinson 1 0 3, Cameron Benson 3 4 10, D’Marco Howard 5 8 20. Totals: 13-17-47
3-pointers: L 3 (Cox, Johnston, See), H 4 (Howard 2, T. Robinson, J. Robinson)