A few days after the Wilbur Cross boys basketball team beat Hillhouse in overtime last month, the Academics watched the film of the overtime loss.
Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton didn’t say anything. He just laughed — at the players. Then he left the room.
The players continued to watch the film to completion. Sutton never returned that day, but the players got the message: that type of performance would not be acceptable the next time around.
“He made us feel like we were a joke, like we weren’t taking things seriously,” Hillhouse senior Raiquan Clark said.
Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon. Seventh-ranked Hillhouse built a sizable lead by halftime, suffocating the Governors on the defensive end. Then they held off a comeback attempt to beat No. 8 Wilbur Cross 71-56 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“I did that because I know they didn’t play to their full potential,” Sutton said. “The seniors were still riding a high from last year, I felt we gave that Cross game away. I made them understand it’s not a joke to lose. They responded by playing (Fairfield) Prep hard and everyone else hard.”
Said Clark, who finished with a game-high 26 points: “If we all play together, I still think we can be the best team in the state.”
Hillhouse is the defending SCC and Class LL state champion.
“I think they played a lot of basketball games this season kind of complacent, not respecting their opponents,” Sutton said. “The last few games, they have put the necessary work in.”
Hillhouse’s defensive effort in the first half was similar to the one it had in the second half against New Britain last month and in the first half against Career last Wednesday.
The Academics (15-4) held the Governors (14-5) to just five field goals.
“Out of the three city teams, I don’t believe anybody is better than anybody else,” Sutton said. “There is a lot of talent in New Haven and in the SCC.”
Josh Fleming and Chan Williams-Bey were each held to just three points in the first half. A 12-2 run to close out the first quarter and a 13-2 run early in the second quarter gave the Academics plenty of cushion with a 29-12 lead.
“That’s a team with a lot of pride in Hillhouse,” Wilbur Cross coach Kevin Walton said. “We dug ourselves too big a hole. At this time of year, you can’t afford to get down big like that or you will write yourself a sad ending.”
The win helped Hillhouse’s hopes of being one of the top three seeds in the SCC tournament and getting a potential bye into the quarterfinals on March 1.
The Academics’ biggest lead was 24 points (48-24) in the third quarter before Cross attempted its comeback.
Shane Christie scored 13 of his 24 points in the first half.
“What we need is some leadership,” Walton said. “This time of year, you need kids who will be fearless, kids who will go out there playing to win rather than playing not to lose. … On any level, you turn the ball over, miss free throws and give up offensive rebounds, you are going to lose, We deserved to lose, simple as that.”
One of the Governors’ key contributors, Mike Judkins, has missed the last two games with what Walton “termed school issues” and said “at this point, he is not a member of the program.”
HILLHOUSE 71, WILBUR CROSS 56
(at New Haven)
Hillhouse 16 20 16 19 — 71
Wilbur Cross 7 9 18 22 — 56
Wayne Whyth 0 0-0 0, Dion Boyd 0 2-2 2, Corey Barrett 1 1-4 3, Troy Walters 0 2-4 2, Isaiah Lewis 3 0-0 8, Ellis Goodlow 0 0-0 0, Shane Christie 8 7-9 24, Raiquan Clark 8 10-11 26, Dontell Glover 2 2-2 6. Totals: 22 24-32 71
WILBUR CROSS (56)
Jaelin Robinson 1 2-7 4, Chan Williams-Bey 4 4-6 13, Jaylin Fuller 2 5-10 9, Jamir Esdaile 1 0-0 3, Joshua Fleming 4 4-4 15, Anthony Miller 1 0-0 2, Robert Durant 1 2-2 4, Tyvon Bradley 1 0-0 2, Darryl Stokes 2 0-1 4. Totals: 17 17-30 56
3-point goals: Hillhouse 3 (Lewis 2, Christie 1); Wilbur Cross 5 (Williams-Bey 1, Esdaile 1, Fleming 3); Fouled out: Wilbur Cross (Stokes, Bradley); Records: Hillhouse 15-4; Wilbur Cross 14-5
Notes: technical fouls: Fleming, Goodlow.