Baylor coach Austin Clark decided to open the Red Raiders’ basketball season with what probably reminded his players of a demanding exam.
The test came against Nike-sponsored Hamilton Heights, which had already played seven games, winning five of them.
Baylor played the Hawks tough for the better part of three quarters, but a 20-2 run ending the third quarter and starting the fourth enabled Hamilton Heights to pull away for a 62-41 victory Tuesday night before an almost full James C.
“They’re really tall and they brought the energy from start to finish,” said Baylor’s Beyman Hendricks, who led all scorers with 18 points, including three 3-pointers in the first quarter. “We didn’t do that and that’s something we’ll have to work on.”
Baylor (0-1) missed its first eight shots, but Boris Ristanovic hit a 3 – he finished with eight points – to end the opening drought. Hendricks' three 3s came in the final 1 minute and 36 seconds of the quarter and the Red Raiders were down 18-14 at the first break.
The Red Raiders tied the game at 18-all and trailed by just six points with about six minutes remaining before the Hawks finished off the 20-2 run for a 55-34 lead at the 3:28 mark.
“I wanted to compete against them,” Clark said, referring to scheduling the Hawks. “They’re well-coached, have a good basketball team and I wanted to challenge our players. I thought they accepted the challenge, but we would have liked to finish better.”
The Hawks (7-2) were thankful of playing a game in the same city they attend school, which doesn’t happen that often. .
“We were very glad to have the opportunity again to play in Chattanooga and play a Chattanooga team,” Hawks coach Zach Ferrell said. “We consider that a blessing every time we get the opportunity.
“It’s definitely different. Normally, we’re getting on the bus and driving a minimum of two hours to play. To get on the bus and just drive across town is nice.”
The last time the Hawks played in a similar situation was last season against McCallie in the Blue Tornado round robin.
After Baylor’s slow start and the Hawks getting a 3 from Wheza Panzo, a 6-foot-6 junior from Ontario, the Hawks had a 9-0 lead.
Ristanovic’s 3 got Baylor on the scoreboard with a 3, but Hawks managed to up the lead to 13-3. Hendricks made two straight 3s from the right wing and right corner, Rawls countered with a straight-on 3-pointer, Baylor’s Niko Simpkins dropped in a bucket, Ristanovic scored and Hendricks gave the Red Raiders momentum with his third 3 of the opening quarter, cutting the Hawks’ lead to four points.
“We wanted to get better tonight,” Rawls said. “We wanted to bring a lot of energy and defend well and come out with the win. We played pretty well because we got the win, but we didn’t hit as many shots as we’re used to. We found other ways to win the game.”
All the first-quarter scoring, starting with Hendricks’ first 3, came in the final 1:36 of the period.
After Baylor tied the game at 18-18, the Hawks had a 12-4 offensive spurt and went to the locker room with a 30-22 lead at halftime.
Baylor was down 32-24 early in the third, but scored six straight points, the last four by Hendricks, and trailed 35-30.
Tre Edwards then scored five of his nine points with a 3-pointer and a brilliant tip-in to stretch the margin to 40-30 heading into the fourth period. The teams swapped baskets and the Hawks blitzed the Red Raiders to put the game out of reach.
Ellis made two free throws. Hendricks dropped in a floater, Edwards made two free throws, Panzo soared for a flying tip-in off a Hendricks floater, Jason Jitoboh scored and Rawls swished a 3 and suddenly Hamilton Heights was comfortable out front 55-34.
“We really wanted to start strong in the fourth quarter and that’s what we did,” Rawls said.
Said Ferrell: “We knew Baylor was going to be good this year. They have really good players and they play hard every time they step on the floor. We’re glad coach Clark called and gave us the opportunity to play over here.”
Clark, who has routinely relied on a 2-3 zone defense for years, is continuing his switch to a man-to-man that began last season, was proud of his team’s effort against the Hawks, but added, “I’m not satisfied.”
“We missed some shots down the stretch and when you’re trying to come back you have to make some shots, and we didn’t,” he said. “It was our first game and you learn a lot between your first and second games. We’ll look at the film and look at the fact we didn’t execute or finish some inside shots.
“Yes, their height was there, but we had some open looks. We’ll have to knock those down. Defensively, I thought we gave great effort.”
Jitoboh, a 6-foot-11, 300-pound junior center from Nigeria, finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Panzo added nine points and 11 rebounds.
Hamilton Heights 18 12 10 22 – 62
Baylor 14 8 10 9 – 41
Hamilton Heights (62) – Kevaughn Ellis 13, Jordan Rawls 13, Panzo 9, Edwards 9, Gilgeous-Alexaner, Ambrose 2, Ruzhentsev 2, LeGuenne 2, Jason Jitoboh 11, Plasvic 1.
Baylor (41) – Jackson 3, Beyman Hendricks 18, Ristanovic 8, White, Brady, Niko Simpkins 10.
3-Point Goals – Hamilton Heights 6 (Rawls 3, Ellis 1, Panzo 1, Edwards 1), Baylor 6 (Hendricks 3, Ristannovic 2, Jackson 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)