NEW HAVEN >> The best boys basketball team in the Elm City resides on Legion Avenue — for now.
Career led from start to finish Monday night to beat Hillhouse 64-58 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in a battle of top 10 teams in the Register poll.
“All I tell them is to get better every day at practice and every time we have a game. And they have done that for the most part,” Career coach Larry Kelley said.
It turned into a free-throw shooting contest in the fourth quarter as both teams combined to go to the line 26 times over the final 8 minutes. Sixth-ranked Career shot 8 of 11 and fourth-ranked Hillhouse shot 11 of 15.
The Academics (5-2) did cut the deficit to one, 59-58, on a basket by Raiquan Clark, but Career’s Amos Ford (17 points) answered right back with a layup at the other end. Hillhouse never got any closer.
“I just knew my kids would hold on. They are strong,” Kelley said.
The Panthers (7-0) came from behind to beat the best two opponents on their schedule — Bunnell and Wilbur Cross — late in the game and both on the road before Monday’s tilt. Then Career jumped out to a 17-3 lead on the defending SCC and Class LL state champions.
“We can’t believe we are good enough to spot teams 12, 15 points and still win the game,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “We did it against Fairfield Prep and we had to fight back to get into the game. By the time we do fight back we are exhausted, and then we blow defensive assignments, loose balls or rebounds.”
Four players scored in double figures for the Panthers: Ford (17 points), Tyrell Eaddy (13), Jordan Lomax (11) and Aaron Eaddy (10).
Meanwhile, Hillhouse got a huge lift from Isaiah Lewis. He scored 15 points in the third quarter to keep the Academics in the game. Lewis finished with a team-high 17 points.
“It was our underclassmen who carried us,” Sutton said. “They helped make it a basketball game. I don’t think any of our seniors gave me anything.”
Da’Quan Bowles (seven points), Isaiah Lewis and Dontell Glover (13 points) were the catalysts to even make it look like it was a basketball game.”
Hillhouse’s top two returning players struggled. Clark finished with 10 points while plagued by foul trouble. Shane Christie scored all six of his points in the second quarter.
Yet the Academics managed to hang in until the final minute.
“Those guys came in like Fairfield Prep, with a chip on their shoulder,” Sutton said about Career. “My new guys have to be aware of what the situation is. They have to earn their own reputation as hard workers and finishers at the basket. I do believe we will recover.”