East Hamilton made some basketball history Thursday night.
Freshman Kenny Bunton scored a team-high 18 points, junior Tre Herndon made two clutch free throws in the final 26.7 seconds and the Hurricanes upended Howard, 49-46, for the fourth-year program’s first victory over the Hustlin’ Tigers in a thrilling District 6-AA game at East Hamilton School.
“I’m just a freshman, but some of the other guys have been working on this a long time,” said Bunton, who hit three 3-pointers. “I felt the fire to play hard and a determination to win.”
The Hurricanes (15-7, 7-3) had failed on seven previous occasions to notch a victory over the Hustlin’ Tigers (16-4, 9-2).
It finally happened and everyone connected with the program immediately realized the significance of the win.
“It feels great to the other guys and to me,” Bunton said. “It’s great that I can celebrate this with them.”
Despite the loss Howard held on to the district’s lead, but the Hurricanes leap-frogged Brainerd (10-10, 6-3) into second place. Tyner is fourth at 13-6, 6-4.
“The thing is to put your team in the top four spots and host a district tournament game,” Hurricanes coach Michael Stone said. “We’ve never finished that high, but this was a nice step in the right direction. And to do it against Howard is a huge confidence boost for the program.”
East Hamilton, which also has nailed down its first winning season, has four district games remaining prior to the district tournament that will be played at Hixson. The Hurricanes play Central on Friday and Feb. 11. In between, they will take on Tyner (Feb. 5) and East Ridge (Feb. 8).
“If we win out, we control our destiny for second place,” Stone said. “That’s a nice position to be in.”
The Hurricanes lost to Brainerd (49-43) and Howard (61-46) last week and edged East Ridge (74-67) on Tuesday.
Howard’s only other district loss was to Central (63-51) on Dec. 14.
Hustlin’ Tigers coach Walter McGary felt his team shouldn’t have lost Thursday’s game.
“That game was over when we were 45 (points) and they were 40,” McGary said. “Nobody is supposed to come back from that on us. We made some crucial mistakes. I did a poor job of communicating what I wanted them to do.”
Howard’s 6-foot-7-inch Brandon Walters, a dominating force inside, scored six of Howard’s eight points to give the Hustlin’ Tigers a 43-38 lead with 4:14 left in the game. Two Shailique Cameron free throws – the senior guard finished with 13 points – pushed Howard’s lead to 45-40 with 3:26 on the clock.
Bunton made a layup after a Howard turnover and added a no-fear 3 from the right corner to tie the game with 1:45 remaining.
“Kenny played the most confident against a quality opponent as I’ve ever seen him play,” Stone said. “He came out and played the game and ignored the fact he was a freshman going against Howard.
“We like to play at a little faster pace and when the game is fast he sees it in slow motion. And his teammates were making it a little easier for him. Dominic Powell and Cody Knox didn’t have great statistics, but they did a good job of handling the ball and not making many turnovers.”
After a couple of blanks by the Hustlin’ Tigers and two errant tries of their own, the Hurricanes’ Ladarius Watkins dropped in a layup off an inbounds pass – the play caught Howard’s defense napping under the basket, providing Watkins with an uncontested shot – and East Hamilton led, 47-45, with 1:11 on the clock.
Walters, who led all scorers with 24 points (he hit 12-of-15 free throws), made one of two freebies – Howard’s first points since Cameron’s free throws – to cut East Hamilton’s lead to 47-46.
Herndon, fouled by Antonio Smith, made a free throw and missed the second attempt with 26.7 seconds left. However, he grabbed a crucial rebound to retain possession and was fouled by RaShad Brummitt.
Again, Herndon made one of two attempts, giving the Hurricanes a three-point spread with just 6.3 seconds on the clock
“The play of the game was probably that rebound Tre had,” Stone said. “And his free throws forced them to shoot a 3 they didn’t want to take. “
Howard’s Smith fired up an off-balanced, contested 3 from the left corner and the ball hit the rim and bounced away as the final horn sounded to end the Hurricanes’ historic come-from-behind win.
“I’m not a great free-throw shooter, but I got the ones I needed and I’m happy about that,” Herndon said. “This feels great. We had never beaten them before. We had to make some plays, stop their key players and that’s what we did.”
Howard trailed, 32-21, after Powell’s power drive down the lane to start the third quarter, but went on a 12-0 run to grab its first lead at 33-32. Walters scored the last six points in that spurt.
The rest of the game was a back-and-forth battle that had most of the fans on the edge of their seats.
When it ended with Smith’s near-miss, the Hurricanes’ faithful were jumping in joy while the Hustlin’ Tigers followers sat in stunned silence.
East Hamilton girls 53, Howard 42: Playing once of their sloppiest games of the season, East Hamilton’s Lady Hurricanes caught fire in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Lady Hustlin’ Tigers, 8-0, over the final 1:23 of the game to win and remain unbeaten in district play.
East Hamilton scored a season-low 10 first-half points.
“That was ugly,” East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said. “Howard likes to make games ugly, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. They like to pound the boards and make you shoot from outside and that frustrated us. We didn’t hit many shots or play defense until the fourth quarter. Then we were able to control the game.”
With their fifth straight win, the Hurricanes (16-8, 10-0), who won the district tournament and regular-season district title the past two seasons, opened a 1 ½-game cushion over Howard (9-6, 9-2) in the current district standings.
East Hamilton has two games with Central and one each against Tyner and East Ridge to close its regular-season schedule.
Jessica Caudle led the Hurricanes, who haven’t lost to a Tennessee team since Baylor posted a 44-42 win in the Best of Preps tournament on Dec. 27 – a stretch of 10 games, with 19 points. Caudle scored 39 points in two games against Howard this season.
Howard’s Nuqeilla Robins scored a game-high 22 points and Deroneasha Smartt added 17.
“We were flat and had no intensity in the first half,” Morris said. “I told them at halftime to keep working for their shots. I hope we’ve gotten that out of our system. We’ve playing pretty well, if you don’t look at tonight’s game.”
Howard 4 12 11 15 – 42
East Hamilton 4 6 18 25 – 53
Howard (42) – Nuqeilla Robins 21, Tyreshia Rollins 2, Deroneasha Smartt 17, Finch 2, Smith, Davis.
East Hamilton (53) – Jessica Caudle 19, Harp 6, Woods 2, K. Caudle 9, Zackery 7, Moon 4, Wood 6, Giles.
3-Point Goals – Howard none; East Hamilton 2 (J. Caudle, K. Caudle).
Howard 9 12 13 12 – 46
East Hamilton 14 16 6 13 – 49
Howard (46) – Shailique Cameron 13, Walton 3, Harris 6, Brandon Walters 24, Brummitt, Smith, Young, McCauley, Lewis.
East Hamilton (49) – Powell 9, Kenny Bunton 18, Herndon 7, Knox 9, Watkins 6, Dennis, Griffith, Berry.
3-Point Goals – Howard 1 (Cameron); East Hamilton 5 (Bunton 3, Powell, Herndon).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)