WATERBURY >> Book the Hillhouse Academics for another trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The third-seeded Academics defeated No. 2 seed Danbury 66-45 at Augelli Court Thursday night in the Class LL state semifinals.
Not only did the Academics (24-3) never trail, they had a double-digit lead the entire second half. The closest the Hatters (23-4) got was 10 points.
“To be honest, I feel there is still more room to grow. We can still get a little bit better,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “We are peaking right now and hopefully, it will carry over to Sunday.”
Now Hillhouse tries to build on its state record of 22 state championship on Sunday night at 5:30 p.m. against No. 4 seed and seventh-ranked Weaver. This will be Hillhouse’s fourth trip to the Sun since the state finals moved there beginning with the 2008-09 season.
“I don’t even know what the feeling will be like,” said sophomore Byron Breland, who finished with a game-high 21 points.
The Beavers beat the Academics 77-55 back in December.
“We will have to play our best game to beat them,” Sutton said. “Rebounding and free throws, if we can stay solid with that, we will be OK.”
After winning state title No. 22 in 2013, Hillhouse lost the last two years to Fairfield Prep. Last year in the LL semifinals, Hillhouse missed 16 free throws and Prep prevailed in overtime.
On Thursday, the Academics were 10 of 14 from the line in the fourth quarter and 18 of 31 overall.
Hillhouse, ranked fourth in the latest Register/GameTimeCT Top 10 poll, has won 23 of its last 24 games.
The Academics’ full-court pressure defense forced seven turnovers in the opening quarter. The lead grew to double digits before the game got to halftime.
“We rattled them with the press and got out to a big lead,” said Joey Kasperzyk, who finished with 14 points, including eight from the line.
Said Danbury coach Casey Bock: “They have really good guards who would make a play and extend it (the lead) a little bit. We had to keep it close in the first half and we didn’t.”
Hillhouse pulled the ball out in the third quarter, not only trying to force Danbury out of its zone defense, but also to create mismatches and get to the basket. And while the Hatters were able to mount a comeback to beat Wilbur Cross in the quarterfinals Tuesday night, Hillhouse wouldn’t allow it to happen in the semifinals.
“We tried to get as big a lead as possible so they couldn’t get back in the game,” Breland said.
“We were thinking to ourselves, ‘Don’t let them come back in this game.’”
It was one of the best seasons in recent memory for Danbury, the regular-season champion in the FCIAC and the last team in the league to depart the state tournament.
“It’s going to sting now. In two-to-three weeks when we look back on the season, our seniors will realize what they accomplished,” Bock said. “They turned the program around. Hopefully this is an expectation to get back here. … You have Hillhouse and Weaver and those schools expect to be here. Now we have to try and build towards that.”
Marcus Fox led Danbury with 15 points.
HILLHOUSE 66, DANBURY 45
Hillhouse 14 15 10 27 – 66
Danbury 8 10 7 20 – 45
Joey Kasperzyk 3 8-13 14, Tyler Douglas 0 3-8 3, Byron Breland 8 4-4 21, Christian Adams 6 0-0 13, Davon Warner 1 2-2 4, Tyler Williams 1 0-2 2, Justin Gordeneer 3 0-0 6, Anthony Crenshaw 0 1-2 1, Juaugnan Hoover 1 0-0 2, Chauness Johnson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 18-31 66
Massiah Crandell 1 0-0 2, Judah James 2 3-4 7, Titus James 0 2-4 2, Tyren McCrea 3 0-0 7, Pierre Moudouron 0 0-0 0, Scott Nesbitt 2 6-8 10, Marvin Payton 1 0-0 2, Marcus Fox 6 3-4 15. Totals: 15 14-20 45
3-point goals: Hillhouse 2 (Breland 1, Adams 1); Danbury 1 (McCrea 1); Fouled out: Danbury (James); Records: Hillhouse 24-3; Danbury 23-4
Notes: Technical foul: Breland (hanging on the rim).