Hillcrest Wins Close Game at Northridge
The Hillcrest Patriots defeated the Northridge Jaguars 40-38 in an instant classic that lived up to the expectations. Hillcrest was led by senior forward Shah Hall, who finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds, and junior guard DJ Hamlett, who finished with 14 points and the game-winning shot with 3 seconds remaining on the clock. Northridge was led by John Walker, the only Jaguar to finish in double digits, with 14 points on the night.
Both teams had trouble making shots in the opening period; the score was 20-15 at the break. Northridge, who came into the game as one of the area's top shooting teams, could not get anything going from the perimeter. They only made two 3-pointers on the night, scoring less than 20% of the game. Northridge did an excellent job of slowing down Hillcrest's three leading scorers in the first half: Osa Alohan, DJ Hamlett, and Shah Hall. The Jaguars' physicality frustrated the Patriots' studs.
Hillcrest rediscovered its secret to success in the second half by attacking the paint with Hamlett and Hall. Shah Hall, at 6-foot-8 and with a 7-foot wingspan, was unquestionably the tallest player on the court. Coach Suttles remarked how Hall's "Manhood" was tested in the first half by his inability to get easy baskets in the paint while being guarded by Fletcher Boatright (6-foot-5) and Patten Currington (6-foot-3). In the second half, Hall's mindset was clear: get the boards and get buckets. He used his gigantic size to take over the game in the second half when the Patriots led by four points in the third quarter.
Hillcrest's DJ Hamlett was the game's hero late in the game, but a lot could have been written about the missed opportunities that could have made this game not as close as it was. Hamlett was only 4-of-9 from the free throw line, but he never appeared intimidated at the line, especially late in the game.
Coach Suttles looked to his junior to make the game-winning play with 19.5 seconds remaining, and he delivered with the spinning jumper to give Hillcrest the victory. “DJ struggled in the first half he’d be the first one to admit it.” Coach Suttles weighs in on DJ Hamlett. “He’s a winner and he came through like a champ that he is.”
Hamlett seemed unfazed by the environment or taking the final shot. He'd been preparing for this moment for a long time.
“Coach came to us, and I need to take the shot,” said Hamlett on the game-winning shot. "I've been working hard outside of practice and school... I worked on the move while taking the shot. I always worked on it, and I made it and it just went in.”
Shah Hall, who finished with a double-double, highlighted how this game on the road in a hostile environment might be extremely beneficial come playoff time. “The goal is to go into postseason play and play in a hostile environment in the postseason which will be way bigger than just an area game. So yeah, I think this really helped us prepare for that.”
Hillcrest is presently 9-2 on the season and will return to action at home on Monday against Demopolis. Northridge is now 5-5 on the season and will play host to Hoover on Thursday.
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