UNCASVILLE >> They came armed with T-shirts in support of their missing teammate and armed with a defensive game plan we have seen time and again.
Hillhouse is like any other good team, find an edge for motivation, or manufacture one like Michael Jordan always did back in his heydey.
The Academics didn’t need to manufacture one Saturday night. Byron Breland was suspended from the Class LL state championship game due to receiving two technical fouls and being ejected in Wednesday’s semifinal. Hillhouse wore shirts in warmups with Breland’s No. 22 emblazoned on the back.
“He (Breland) wanted to wish us luck. He knew we would come out and play hard,” Hillhouse guard Joey Kasperzyk said. “It was very emotional. I felt like he could at least sit on the bench.”
Then Hillhouse went out and took their collective frustration out on East Hartford. The result was 78-58 and state championship No. 24 before 8,186 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“You don’t find too many programs that want to defend the way we do. Maybe it’s a credit to them knowing if they defend hard, they will play,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said.
The Academics (28-1) successfully defended their LL crown in convincing fashion. Only East Catholic in the semifinals came within single digits in the tournament.
It was also their third title at the Sun in five trips.
“For our younger guys, they have big shoes to fill,” Kasperzyk said. “Hopefully, they can come up next year and do the same thing we did.”
Said East Hartford coach Ed Lavoie: “We didn’t do a really good job defensively keeping them where we wanted to on the floor and they were able to hurt us taking us off the dribble. … We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t get much guidance from the CIAC to get here or what to do. They knew exactly what they needed to do.”
East Hartford had the crowd advantage, but Hillhouse kept the Hornets’ faithful mostly quiet in the first half by forcing 15 turnovers.
Davon Warner stepped into the starting lineup and gave the Academics an offensive lift right away with eight first-quarter points. He finished with 19 points.
“(Breland) wanted us to step up,” Warner said.
East Hartford trailed 39-22 at halftime and started the second half on an 8-0 run, getting the crowd back into it.
By the time the third quarter ended, the Hornets were down 18 points, 54-36. Lavoie got a technical foul with 2:51 still left in the third quarter after East Hartford was whistled for fouls No. 5 and 6.
“I asked him (an official) at halftime about calls. I asked how we would be able to play. I was told, “Why don’t you press, Coach?’” Lavoie said. “That was one of the remarks by the referee. I said (in the third), ‘You told us we could play this way.’ It got a little heated. I didn’t say anything vulgar. I got T’d up.”
Kasperzyk scored 19 points in his final game for the champions, who came into the state tournament No. 1 in the Register/GameTimeCT poll. East Hartford came in ninth.
“His performance was like this was his last time wearing a Hillhouse uniform. I made sure I reminded him of that. With the absence of Tre (Breland), he would have to raise his level.”
And unlike the 27 missed free throws in the semifinals, Hillhouse went 20-of-29 on Saturday (69 percent).
The chants of Breland rang out as the game ticked under a minute. Breland was in a hotel room on site, watching the game on the internet. His teammates hadn’t let him down.
HILLHOUSE 78, EAST HARTFORD 58
East Hartford 8 14 14 22 – 58
Hillhouse 18 21 15 24 – 78
EAST HARTFORD (58)
Jaylin Palmer 0 0-0 0, Kingsley Cockburn 4 2-3 11, Isaiah Williams 2 4-5 9, Austin Nwafor 5 1-3 11, Justin Nwafor 3 5-6 11, Aaron Tomlinson 0 4-6 4, Mark McCallop 0 1-4 1, Quinton Haughton 0 2-2 2, Jaquan Allen 1 1-2 3, Raquan Tompkins 1 0-0 2, Rafael Cruz 0 4-4 4. Totals: 16 24-35 58
Joey Kasperczyk 5 9-11 19, Davon Warner 5 6-6 19, Tyler Douglas 0 1-4 1, Mekhi Warren 6 1-4 13, Rayshawn Brewer 2 0-0 4, Jalil Wilkerson 1 1-2 4, Hoover 1 0-0 2, James Daniels 1 0-0 3, Christian Adams 4 2-2 13. Totals: 25 20-29 78
3-point goals: East Hartford 2 (Cockburn 1, Williams 1); Hillhouse 8 (Warner 3, Wilkerson 1, Daniels 1, Adams 3); Fouled out: East Hartford (Tomlinson); Hillhouse (Brewer); Records: East Hartford 23-4; Hillhouse 28-1
Notes: Technical foul: Lavoie