NEW HAVEN — Last season was far from a blue-chip season for the Hillhouse Academics. In fact, it was a subpar season.
A 13-11 campaign, including losses in the SCC boys basketball tournament quarterfinals and the second round of the Division I state tournament, wasn’t one the Elm City will remember with joy. But it may be one that helps catapult the Academics back into state contender status.
The fifth-ranked Academics won their third straight game to start this season, holding off fourth-ranked Bassick 65-60 Monday afternoon at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“We have the chip on our shoulder from last season,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “They took their lumps. It was hard for people wanting to accept it, but they were young. They went through the gauntlet. Now they are here and trying to get some redemption.”
Said Hillhouse senior guard Ta’zhon Daniels: “I feel this a redemption year after last year. We are using this year to try and get back on top.”
This is the third year Daniels has been the floor general for the Academics. He had arguably his best game in a Hillhouse uniform against Bassick: 29 points, including 10 of 12 from the free-throw line, seven assists, four blocks and four steals.
“As a point guard, I feel I have to take over these types of games,” Daniels said.
Said Sutton: “From what I have seen out of Ta’zhon, he is demonstrating to be if not the best player in the SCC, then one of the best. His energy on both ends, his ability to keep his teammates involved as well as his ability to take the game over. He has the full package. … He has the ability to defend you out on the open court and take the ball from you.”
— Joe Morelli (@nhrJoeMorelli) December 31, 2019
Daniels is going to need help. Cinceree Lash provided ample support the first two games for Hillhouse (3-0). On Monday, the support came from Turone Kelley Jr.
The senior guard had a 20-second sequence late in the game where he drove to the basket for two, grabbed a defensive rebound, then made an offensive putback. That sequence increased Hillhouse’s lead from five to nine, 63-54, with 1:29 left.
“That sequence was very important because the game was close,” Kelley said. “I just hustled on those plays. I will try to do my best, do what I got to do inside, keep the inside organized, rebound as much as I can, finish the layups and second chances.”
But Bassick wasn’t finished yet. Isaiah Sullivan and Jermaine Grant hit back-to-back 3-point shots to cut it to 63-60 with 42 seconds left.
After a Hillhouse timeout, the Lions trapped and forced a backcourt violation on Jaiden Satchell with 29 seconds remaining.
But the Academics tightened up the defense and forced misses on the Lions’ last three attempts. Eddie Langs hit a pair of clutch free throws for Hillhouse with 19 seconds left to account for the final margin.
“The energy is there, the desire is there. We got down nine points and didn’t quit,” Bassick coach Bernie Lofton said. “They are not going to quit. They are trying the best they could. We are still learning what our roles are.”
Quinell McKoy led the Lions with 13 points.
Bassick (2-3) has struggled to start the season, losing at Fairfield Ludlowe and versus Masuk at the buzzer at home last week.
“Every game has been down to the wire except for the Ludlowe game. And we are young in a lot of key spots. We are going to be good later on. I think we will be good down the stretch.”
After Hillhouse opened the second half on a 7-2 run to open up a 10-point lead, the Lions answered with a 10-point run of their own to tie the game at 39.
Then Daniels scored six straight for Hillhouse. Bassick never tied it again.
“I know I’m a great free throw shooter,” Daniels said. “So as long as I draw the foul or I at least try and make the layup, I’m going to go to the free-throw line.”
Said Lofton: “Early in the game, we wanted them to shoot threes and (Daniels) made them. We tried to take the ball out of his hands, but he is tough. He played an excellent game.”