Top-ranked New Castle edges No. 4 Hampton
This victory was much different than New Castle's first 20, because the outcome remained in doubt with 7.9 seconds left.
New Castle's Malik Hooker rebounded a missed Hampton layup and made both free throws after being fouled to seal Friday night's 54-50 victory at Hampton.
This was the first time the top-ranked Red Hurricanes (21-0, 14-0) had won by fewer than 16 points. They erased an eight-point third-quarter lead and then survived the final seconds.
“I loved the way that my guys responded,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “This (victory) tells me what I already knew.”
No. 4 Hampton (18-4, 10-4) had won seven straight since a 75-54 loss Jan. 15 at New Castle, having marched through the rest of Section 3-AAAA. Playing before a sold-out crowd, the Talbots fell just short of completing a second-half sweep of their section schedule.
“Right now, it's a pretty dejected locker room,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “They know they had a chance to win a basketball game in front of our home crowd with a good student section and a sold out gym. I think they're a little disappointed. ... Maybe in the tournament down the road, we'll have another shot to play New Castle.”
Ryan Luther led Hampton with 21 points, and David Huber had 14.
Shawn Anderson scored 17 points for New Castle and Hooker added 15. The pair combined to score the team's final 12 points, including a go-ahead basket by Hooker with 7 seconds left in the third and another one minute into the fourth to lead, 46-43.
New Castle never trailed again, but its advantage was always slim.
“No one should be hanging their head after a night like tonight,” Blundo said.
Playing with a slim fourth-quarter lead, New Castle abandoned its fast-paced style and instead held the ball. The Red Hurricanes had made just 8 of 31 3-pointers against Hampton's tightly packed zone, so they were willing to wait.
“We wanted them to come out and guard us,” Blundo said.
Once Hampton stretched its defense, New Castle attacked, scoring consecutive baskets by Anderson and Hooker. The first, with 3:35 left, gave the 'Canes a 50-47 lead. The second, one minute later, made it 52-47.
“It didn't surprise me, because I don't know New Castle has really been in that situation much this season,” Lafko said of the slowdown. “When they've had a chance to nail down a victory, they've been up 15, 16, 18 points.”
Two free throws by Luther with 2:18 left cut New Castle's lead to 52-50, but those were the Talbots' last points. Luther missed the front of a one-and-one with 26.5 seconds left, and a difficult running layup by sophomore Joey Lafko fell short with 7.9 seconds to play.
New Castle missed the front of three one-and-one chances in the final minute, before Hooker made two.
“We had a shot to win the basketball game,” Joe Lafko said. “New Castle was able to make some plays.”