MIDDLETOWN — Xavier coach Mike Kohs typically writes three keys to the game on his locker room whiteboard.
But before facing SCC rival Hillhouse Tuesday night, he only had one: Rebound the basketball.
“We know they like to shoot a lot of 3s and get a lot of second- and third-chance points,” Kohs said. “And we couldn’t give them that.”
Hillhouse took it anyway.
With its determined frontcourt out-hustling the Falcons on the glass and yet another lights-out shooting night from guards Evan Alexander-Scott and Tazhan Daniels, the No. 5-ranked Academics handed Xavier its second defeat, 65-48, at Artie Kohs Gymnasium Tuesday night.
Alexander-Scott scored a game-high 23 points while Daniels added 10 as Hillhouse won its fourth-consecutive game since its overtime loss to No. 2-ranked Windsor two weeks ago.
“Alexander-Scott and Daniels are veteran points guards and they handle the other team’s defensive pressure,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “Today they did well with it. …Today, I appreciated my rebounding. We might have had one or two turnovers too many, but we shot well on the free throw line.”
Hillhouse improved to 9-1 while Xavier fell to 7-2 in the first meeting of the two schools in two seasons.
“They’re a good team,” Sutton said of Xavier. “It’s been a long time since we played them, so we didn’t know what to expect,” Sutton said. “But they played hard, gave a valiant effort.”
Xavier was paced by guard KJ Grisham, who scored 10 of his team-high 17 points in the first half, matching Daniels’ early scoring surge.
But once Alexander-Scott joined his teammate on the scoresheet, effectively busting Xavier’s match-up zone, it became tough for the Falcons to keep up.
“When we’re both scoring, hitting, I feel like we’re the best backcourt in the state,” said Alexander-Scott, who scored eight points in the second quarter as Hillhouse took control of the game with an 11-2 run.
“We’re both competitors,” Daniels said. “We like to play hard and we like to win. So it’s nice to have someone else out there that can relieve you of that stress of taking over a game. We kind of take turns like that. It’s not like it’s planned or anything.”
The Academics’ lead ballooned to as much as 17 points and they led 30-20 at halftime. Xavier got within 7 early on a 3-pointer by Stephen Kohs seconds into the third quarter. But Hillhouse pushed the lead back over 10 and Xavier never got within single digits again.
Hillhouse’s frontcourt — Emmanuel Brown, Alonzo Solomon, Sean Bradley and Jaiden Satchell — made it easy with numerous rebounds and putbacks. Solomon led the way with eight points. “They definitely showed out tonight,” Daniels said.
Alexander-Scott was also 10-of-12 from the foul line. Fellow guard Cincieree Cash added 11 points.
Stephen Kohs added 13 points and Andrew Brown had 10 for Xavier (7-2).
“We didn’t shoot well tonight, especially in the first half,” Mike Kohs said. “And you can’t give Hillhouse that kind of lead because they are a tough team to play when you’re chasing them from behind.”
RESERVED, IN REMEMBRANCE OF SHEILA BENESKI
Before the game, Xavier honored the memory of Sheila Beneski, the described as ‘The First Lady’ of Connecticut High School Basketball,’ who died on Friday at age 76. She is survived by her husband and constant game companion, Frank Beneski. The two attended approximately 125 games every season for 40 years.
Xavier reserved two front row seats for Sheila Beneski at center court and adorned it with roses.
“They’re Connecticut High School Basketball. That’s what they are,” said Mike Kohs, who said he typically saw the Beneski’s at his school’s Art Kohs Christmas Tournament. “The number of gyms they go to… I don’t know how many games they’ve seen. But 125 games over 40 years… I mean, do the math on that. They’re seeing — ballpark — 10 games a week.
“They’re just amazing, both of them. And we’re so sorry for the loss of Sheila.”
Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said he wasn’t aware of Sheila Beneski’s death until just before tip off. “They’re family, her and her husband,” Sutton said. “I think every basketball game I’ve ever been at, they were there. She will definitely be missed. Our prayers to out to their family.”