New Castle boys stave off Hampton's upset bid
Ahead by just two, New Castle increased its pressure and scored the first 14 points of the fourth quarter to claim a 58-42 victory Tuesday night over a short-handed Hampton lineup that was missing its best player.
Hampton trailed 39-37 after three quarters but scored only five points total in the fourth.
“When we got two or three stops, (I thought): ‘We're about to get rolling now,” said New Castle's Malik Hooker, who helped sparked the fourth-quarter run.
It was New Castle's fifth victory over Hampton in the past three seasons, including the WPIAL Class AAA title game in 2012 and the Class AAAA championship in '13.
The win also extended New Castle's regular-season winning streak to 58 games. The Red Hurricanes (12-0, 7-0) hold a half-game lead over Hampton (13-1, 6-1) in Section 3-AAAA.
Hampton, slotted No. 1 in the WPIAL and No. 2 in the state, was one spot ahead of New Castle in both rankings.
But the Talbots played Tuesday without Pitt recruit Ryan Luther, a 6-foot-8 senior who has missed three games with a sprained ankle.
“I don't think any team changes more,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said of Hampton losing its star senior. “... Obviously, it's a lot different without Ryan. Credit Hampton, because they did adjust well ... and played a really tough, hard-nosed basketball game.”
Had this been a playoff game, Luther might have played, Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. But for a Tuesday night game in mid-January, it wasn't worth the risk. Hampton must wait 24 days for a rematch; the teams meet Feb. 7 in New Castle.
“I know this was killing him tonight,” said Lafko, who was hopeful Luther could return later this week. “We know he wants to be out there. We have to keep the big picture in mind.”
Hooker led the Red Hurricanes with 17 points, Jake McPhatter had 14, and Anthony Richards had 10. Hooker and Richards combined for 11 consecutive points in New Castle's game-clinching run.
“Teams that pressure and look to run in transition are going to feed off of runs,” Lafko said.
“For the most part of the game, we were able to contain that. But you know that run is going to come.”
New Castle was 1 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half but made 3 of 5 after halftime.
Collin Luther led Hampton with 14 points.
New Castle trailed for the entire first quarter and into the second until a 13-0 run turned a five-point deficit into a 22-14 lead.
The run included a 3-pointer by McPhatter and two putbacks by Stew Allen.
New Castle led 28-24 at halftime.
“We knew, even with Ryan out, there's a strong basketball team,” Hooker said. “We're still going to have to play our butts off every time we play them.”