NEW HAVEN — Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross decided 32 minutes wasn’t enough to determine the winner in the final game of both team’s regular season.
So it took an overtime period to decide who the kings of the Elm City would be this season. Seventh-ranked Hillhouse made just enough free throws in the extra session to win 60-56 and sweep the season series Thursday night at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
Hillhouse (18-2) blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and had to withstand a game-winning shot by Cross’ Dereyk Grant at the end of regulation to have another chance,
“At that point, they (Hillhouse) were fighting for their lives,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “That’s a good basketball team and Dereyk Grant is a great basketball player. We missed free throws and they got back into the game.”
Said Wilbur Cross coach Kevin Walton: “We want the ball in either Dereyk’s or Darius’ (Esdaile) hands down the stretch. We would like Dereyk to be an attack mode a little more at the end of quarters. He is still learning. We were comfortable with the shot.”
Hillhouse is in line for the No. 2 seed and a potential bye in the SCC tournament. If Xavier can beat Notre Dame-West Haven Friday night, the Academics can be the top seed when the tournament opens on Feb. 27.
“Every game is going to be a challenge. Everybody is trying not to go home that first game, so we will go in and fight hard,” Hillhouse senior guard Ta’Zhon Daniels said. “We can honestly play in the SCC championship game and make it far in states (the CIAC Division I state tournament).”
If Branford beats Career Friday night, 15 teams will qualify for the SCC tournament.
Wilbur Cross (13-7) has locked up a home game in the first round next week as the Governors open defense of their championship.
“Now the kids have to understand it’s one and done,” Walton said. “All those little things we have been preaching all season has to come together.”
Free-throw shooting plagued both teams Thursday night. Hillhouse missed eight — six in the fourth quarter — which helped the squad blow a 10-point lead.
Cross missed 12 — 10 in the second half and overtime combined.
“That (missed free throws) kills you at any level,” Walton said. “We had an opportunity to make plays and we didn’t. The kids fought hard and they played hard. Although we lost two tough games this week (also Tuesday to Notre Dame), they are good matchups to get us ready for the postseason. … No one cares that they are the champions. Several teams in this conference can win the (league) championship.”
Daniels made eight of his nine free throw attempts, including four in overtime. He also hit the go-ahead jumper with 1:12 left in overtime and finished with a game-high 23 points.
“We knew it was a new game (in overtime),” Daniels said. “Once we got the lead, we knew what we had to do: go to the free-throw line and make our free throws. We were in the double bonus.”
Jaiden Satchell hit a basket and Evan Scott-Alexander (14 points) made one free throw with 2.9 seconds left in overtime to provide the final margin of victory.
Daniels was able to redeem himself after picking up a technical foul with 2:16 left in regulation. Not only did Jayleem Sayles (13 points) make both free throws to tie the game, it also cost the Academics possession.
“I was trying to get to the free-throw line and he (Javon Taylor) had his hands on me,” Daniels said. “I was trying to get his hands off me.”
Said Sutton: “Being one of the top players on the team and being a senior, he has to be able to keep his composure. Teams are going to target him. Teams are going to try and antagonize him. It’s about maintaining his focus and getting the job done”
Daniels then forced a 5-second violation before committing an unforced turnover that gave the Grant a chance to win it in regulation.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Ta’Zhon Daniels, Hillhouse: Needed to redeem himself after picking up a technical foul and committing a turnover late in regulation. Hit the go-ahead jumper in overtime and finished with a game-high 23 points.
“We have to get a little bit of rest, then get back in the gym, concentrate on executing the offense and play as hard as we can.”
— Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton