Written by Don Ratzlaff Monday, 05 March 2007 18:00A slow start against a talented opponent put the Hillsboro boys into a hole they could never climb out of.
The Trojans ended an up-and-down season on the low side of a 67-48 decision against top-seeded and eventual sub-state champion Southeast of Saline in the semifinals at Halstead on Friday.
During the opening quarter, Hillsboro committed six turnovers. Senior floor leader Lucas Hamm tried to provide some points, but with Southeast packing the lane, the senior made only two shots in eight attempts to start the game.
Meanwhile, Southeast drained six of its first eight shots, including a pair of 3-pointers to grab a 16-6 lead after one quarter.
"I thought we came out very tentatively offensively," Hillsboro coach Darrel Knoll said. "I didn't think we moved the ball very well, and didn't get the shots we needed to get-and they just made everything they shot."
After Hamm started the second quarter by making one of two free throws, Daniel Jost nailed consecutive 3-pointers for the Hillsboro.
Jost's long-range assault prompted Southeast to extend its defense. HHS responded with seven baskets in 11 attempts, including a 3-pointer by Spencer Brown.
"In the second quarter, we started moving the ball and getting good looks-like we should have come out in the first quarter," Knoll said.
Unfortunately, Southeast matched Hillsboro's output point for point, making seven of 12 shots, including two 3-pointers, to hold a 34-23 advantage at halftime.
By then, SES was shooting 65 percent (13-20) from the field while Hillsboro had improved to 41 percent (9-22) after a 2-for-11 first quarter.
Hillsboro crept as close as six points in the third quarter when Brown drained another 3-pointer to make the score 38-32. But Southeast's Nick Hardesty answered with a trey that ignited an 11-0 run over a three-minute span that gave SES a 49-32 lead.
A traditional three-point play by Troy Frick and a basket by Hamm pulled Hillsboro back to within 49-37 at the final break.
Hillsboro got to within 10 points when Hamm scored the first basket of the fourth quarter. But Southeast refused to break, eventually pushing its lead to a game-high 21 points on a three-point play by Hardesty with 2:03 to play.
For the game, Southeast made 24 of 42 shots (57 percent) from the floor and canned 14 of 19 free throws, while Hillsboro made 19 of 35 field-goal attempts (42 percent) and six off 11 free throws.
"I really thought there were stretches where we played extremely well tonight," Knoll said. "We came out in the second half and cut it to six, but they answered everything we did.
"They played a really good ball game," he said of Southeast, who went on to win the tournament with a 47-44 win over Hesston on Saturday.
"A lot of it was we didn't board well and they got every loose ball. We had a pretty hard time stopping them."
Hillsboro closed its season with an 11-11 record, but six of those losses occurred in games where the Trojans were within at least two points from the lead during the final quarter.
"I thought we competed hard all season," Knoll said. "There were several games we gave up that I thought we could have had earlier. I think we were better than our record showed.
"I know tonight ended up being a pretty wide deficit, but part of that was at the end we were trying to press a little bit and gave up some baskets. They made their free throws, too."
All season, the Trojans struggled to find consistent perimeter scoring to take the pressure off of all-league forward-post Lucas Hamm, who finished his Trojan career with 24 points against Southeast and pulled down 13 rebounds.
"He really is a good force inside," Knoll said of Hamm. "The one thing he's been all four years is a good stabilizer. He's able to take care of boards, plays strong defense, and has the ability to score with guys on him.
"Lucas is a great player and I was happy to have coached him for four years. All of our seniors competed hard and each one had good games at points throughout the season."
First round vs. Marion
In an emotional rematch played out before a capacity-plus crowd in the Marion gymnasium, Hillsboro exorcised the disappointment of a last-second loss to the Warriors a month earlier by "Hamm-ering" the home team 49-35 in the first round.
Lucas Hamm, the Trojans' floor leader all year long, stepped up with a season-high 27 points and pulled down nine rebounds to ignite his team.
"Lucas played a great game tonight, offense and defense," coach Darrel Knoll said of the senior forward, who made nine of 11 shots from the floor, including three of four from behind the arc.
Hamm's 12 points in the opening quarter carried the Trojans to an 18-6 lead at the first break. Travis Hett struck first for Marion on a drive to the hole, but the Warriors didn't score another field goal until Hett nailed a 16-footer with 2:15 left in the period.
By then, Hillsboro was leading 14-4, with Hamm scoring his team's first 10 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers.
In the opening 36 seconds of the second quarter, Marion had a chance to jump right back into contention as Emmanuel Jackson created back-to-back three-point opportunities the traditional way. But the Warrior senior missed both bonus free throws and Marion trailed 18-10.
The lead remained in double digits throughout the quarter, thanks in part to Marion's continuing struggle at the free-throw line. The Warriors made only two of nine attempts during the period.
With a 30-16 lead at halftime, Hillsboro fans likely recalled that their team had led by 12 at halftime of the previous meeting-only to see Marion come all the way back to tie the game in the third quarter.
It appeared history might repeat itself as Marion started the third quarter with a 10-2 run over the first 6:26. Jason Hett and Jackson each contributed a 3-pointer to the rally.
By the end of the quarter, the Trojan lead felt tentative at 37-30.
Then Hamm, who had been shut out in the third quarter, almost single-handedly wrote a different ending for the sequel, scoring eight unanswered points over the first 2:02 of the fourth quarter.
When Daniel Jost followed with a 10-foot jumper at the 5:22 mark, the Trojans had extended their lead to 47-30.
The two team played to a standoff the rest of the way.
"I thought the guys did a really nice job of executing right at the beginning of the fourth quarter," Knoll said. "We got a couple (of passes) inside to Lucas. There were a few more we could have finished, but we got the ball inside and did a nice job of attacking when they were extending the pressure."
Knoll said his team found its motivation not so much in looking back, but in looking ahead.
"For us, this was a sub-state game and we're going to play the best game we can," he said. "The main thing we concentrated on in practice yesterday and today before we came was to play hard and leave it all out on the floor.
"If we played our style of basketball we could get a win, but we had to play to win-and let whatever happens take care of itself."
As a team, the Trojans made 18 of 35 shots from the floor (51 percent), including four of seven attempts from behind the arc. At the line, Hillsboro cashed in nine free throws in 12 tries. The Warriors, led by Jason Hett with 12 and Travis Hett with 10, were 13-for-40 from the floor, including 3-for-15 from behind the arc, and made only six of 14 free throws.
Hamm's production on offense almost overshadowed the game turned in by Spencer Brown. But Knoll praised the exploits of his junior guard, who contributed nine points and disrupted play on the defensive end before fouling out midway through the final quarter.
"The one thing about Spencer is that he is a comeptitor-he comes to play," Knoll said. "He played a nice defensive game on Jackson and then, offensively, he did a good job of getting the ball up the court against the defense and made some great assists down the stretch. He just did a really nice job for us."