NEW HAVEN >> Hillhouse may have graduated nine seniors from last year’s Class LL state championship, but the current Academics are shaping up to be a pretty fierce defensive unit.
The fourth-ranked Academics smothered New Britain in the second half, holding the ninth-ranked Hurricances to just three field goals and pulled away for a 57-41 win at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“You have to defend or you won’t touch the floor,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said.
The Academics (7-2) weren’t exactly scintillating on offense either, but they didn’t have to be. Their three baskets in the third quarter were good enough as the Hurricanes (8-2) scored just five total points in the period.
Curtis Hyman, who spent most of the third quarter on the bench with four fouls, had the only basket of the fourth quarter for the Hurricanes with just under 3 minutes left. But Hillhouse already had the game in hand. The Academics never trailed after the midway point of the first quarter.
“Our objective was to help out on the back door and communicate more so we could get more steals,” Hillhouse guard Dion Boyd said.
Said New Britain coach Todd Stigliano: “I told our guys, ‘This is how they play.’ It doesn’t matter who’s in and who’s out, it doesn’t matter who he turns to the bench and points to, that kid comes in and plays hard. Their motor runs all the time. Ours didn’t run at all. So you are not supposed to win. …They force you to play ugly and if you are not tough, which we weren’t, this is the result.”
The defensive effort was reminiscent of what Hillhouse did to Bridgeport Central in the Class LL state tournament quarterfinals last year, shutting out the Hilltoppers in the third quarter.
Saturday was a different cast on the floor than last March, but the Academics may have figured things out, at least on the defensive end of the floor. Hillhouse used a lot of matchup-zone looks to try to contain forward Annuel Saint Juste, who came in averaging about 27 points per game and was held to just eight.
“It wasn’t a gimmick defense, but we definitely wanted to focus on him,” Sutton said about Saint Juste. “He is one of the better players in the state. For him to be held to less than double digits, I take my hat off to my guys.”
The non-conference win for Hillhouse, a completion of a home-and-home series with the Hurricanes, was accomplished without senior guard Shane Christie, who along with Corey Barrett, sat out the game due to a violation of team policy. Sutton did not indicate when either would return.
Boyd led the Academics with 15 points and Troy Walters and Raiquan Clark each added 11. Hillhouse shot 19 of 23 from the free throw line.
“I don’t understand how you come into an environment like this with the defending state champions and play with no energy,” Stigliano said. “We came out and wandered around. The fact that we can’t come out and play with some energy and excitement where you have the opportunity to earn some respect, it’s sad, it’s embarrassing.”
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