MIDDLETOWN >> Hillhouse survived.
The Academics, in their first game after their upset loss to Fairfield Prep, held on to defeat Xavier 56-47, surviving a poor outside shooting night from beyond the arc — they made just one 3-pointer — and from the free throw line.
What Hillhouse was able to do was dominate the backboards at both ends, cashing in on second-chance baskets.
“I don’t know why we shot so badly,” said Hillhouse coach Renaud Sutton. “We think of this as a good shooting gym. Thing is, when we shoot well, we can build our lead. We didn’t do that tonight.
“But what we did do was play excellent defense and our rebounding was excellent.”
Hillhouse (17-1) began the night by taking a 13-2 lead, but Xavier climbed to within five at 15-10 after one. The Acs sprinted to a 21-10 lead early in the second quarter, but Xavier (8-10) got back in the game, cutting the lead to 21-19 with 2:45 left.
At that point Hillhouse held the ball, hoping to draw Xavier out of its zone, but Xavier coach Mike Kohs played a pat hand and Hillhouse ran off the final 2:45 without scoring.
“After being down 13-2, you bet I was taking a 23-19 deficit at the half,” said Kohs.
The third and fourth quarters were much the same as the first two. Hillhouse would open up a lead, and Xavier would peck away. The Academics led 37-25 early in the third, but Xavier chopped it down to 38-30 after three.
In the fourth Xavier got as close at 36-33 on a Matt Bielinda trey, but could get no closer. A hoop by Jackson Benigni got the Falcons to within four at 46-42 with 1:48 left, but Hillhouse pulled away, sealing the deal on a hoop by Byron Breeland with 1:13 left giving his team a 50-42 lead.
“I am proud of our kids,” said Kohs. “We competed very well. That’s a very good team that didn’t shoot very well tonight, but they rebounded well. I bet two-thirds of their points came on second-chance baskets. It was tough for us to play at Prep [a 56-54 win] then come back and with no practice because of the snow, play Hillhouse.”
Benigni led all scorers with 19 points. Mekhi Warren (16), Christian Adams (14) and Breeland (11) were in double figures for Hillhouse, which was 11-for-23 from the free throw line, but made their last six in a row when it counted the most.