Late in the fourth quarter of Hamilton Height’s 79-46 defeat of Chattanooga Christian, Andersson Garcia morphed from rangy defender to attacking wing immediately after the Chargers lost possession. Slicing toward the basket with breath-taking speed off the left wing, Garcia made himself an inviting target for any number of the Eagles’ top-flight point guards. One of those stellar ball-handlers promptly found a way to get the wing the ball, and Garcia punctuated the win with a swooping dunk that even left the raucous CCS student section impressed.
“It’s just a blessing to play another team from Chattanooga, and they had incredible fan support and a great student section,” said Hamilton Heights coach Zach Ferrell, “and I think that was awesome for our kids to experience that, and I’m glad we were able to be a part of it. ”
The final score proved deceiving, as it undersold just how hard the Chargers played in front of a standing room only home gym. Leading scorer Michael Houge sent the crowd into a state of euphoria mere seconds into the game after he annihilated a Felix Okpara layup attempt. After CCS went down the court and pumped in their first three pointer, the din was almost painful.
The score remained tight throughout the first quarter, with Houge’s brilliance complemented by fellow forward Treveon Scott. The Eagles ran a frenetic 1-3-1 zone, and often left space for an open mid-range at the free throw line area. The two forwards made a bushel of these kinds of shots and kept the CCS offense afloat. For the Eagles, their 6’7" guard Samson Ruzhentsev was unstoppable, getting to wherever he wanted on the floor and simply elevating whenever the shorter CCS defenders attempted to defend him.
“I thought Samson played great,” said the Florida commit’s coach. “He made shots we wanted him to get early and got that going. And he did a good job getting on the glass and getting some extra shots for us.”
The second quarter saw Hamilton Heights begin to pull away from CCS, with the quarter defined by back-to-back threes by Ruzhentsev and Drew Williams. The game then morphed into a small duel between Houge and mobile big-man Okpara. Houge euro-stepped around the sophomore center for one basket and then notched a triple for another, while Okpara crammed in a couple of alley-oops in between those more conventional buckets.
“I love Felix. He’s just a sophomore and he’s really come on late for us,” said coach Ferrell, who also noted Okpara’s interior defense. “He’s done a great job of protecting the rim and he’s getting better on the glass. I just think he’s got incredible upside and will continue to get better.”
What was a three-point game at the end of the first quarter had become a nine-point advantage in the Eagles' favor at halftime. The third quarter further increased this margin, with speedy guards Marcus Tankersley and Reggie Bass providing even more perimeter scoring next to Ruzhentsev’s high-octane forays from far away. On one of many incredible fast breaks for the Eagles, Bass threw a skyscraping alley-oop to Ruzhentsev for the two of the Russian’s 22 points. The Eagles' defense also locked down, choking off the mid-range jumpshot that the Chargers had feasted on in the first half.
“We just needed to string some stops together, and not give them any open looks,” said coach Ferrell on what changed for Hamilton Heights in the second half. “Our shots were going to come and transition was going to come, and we were able to get back on the defensive end.”
Despite being bested by over 30 points, neither the Charger players nor their student section stopped giving effort. When Traveon Scott put in his only basket of the game, the Charger crowd roared like the game-winning shot had just connected as the players hustled back on defense. With the cameras rolling, the Hamilton Heights players got a few good dunks and layups for the viewers at home, but CCS’ defense was able to stop what could have been Sports Center-worthy dunks.
The win moves Hamilton Heights to 18-0 on the season and maintains their status as the second-ranked team in the country, according to Maxpreps. Chattanooga Christian goes to 13-3.
“This is our best start in school history,” said coach Ferrell, “We’re number one in the state, and number two in the country and we’re getting everyone’s best shot. We’ve earned the right to be there, but now we got to stay hungry and continue to play free.”
HAMILTON HEIGHTS 19 19 21 20 – 79
CHATTANOOGA CHRISTIAN 16 13 10 7 – 46
HAMILTON HEIGHTS (79) – Penn 4, Marcus Tankersley 10, Samson Ruzhentsev 22, Williams 8, Andersson Garcia 10, Mieses 3, Felix Okpara 10, Reggie Bass 12
CHATTANOOGA CHRISTIAN (46) – Van Meter 5, Treveon Scott 13, Hinton 4, Michael Houge 19, Traveon Scott 5
3-POINT GOALS: Hamilton Heights 9 (Ruzhentsev 3, Bass 3, Williams 2, Tankersley 1); CCS 7 (Houge 3, Van Meter 1, Treveon Scott 1, Hinton 1, Traveon Scott 1).