NEW YORK MILLS – Defense has been the constant all season for the Hamilton boys basketball team.
Thursday night was no different as the Emerald Knights’ vaunted 1-3-1 defense was clearly the deciding factor in a 60-51 Center State Conference Division 4 victory over New York Mills.
Trailing by four points after the first quarter, Hamilton’s defense disrupted the Marauders, leading to turnovers and easy transition hoops as the Emerald Knights outscored Mills 35-16 over the next two quarters to run away with the victory.
Senior Trevor Dow scored 18 points and freshman Ryan Rutledge had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Emerald Knights, who improved to 11-2 in the league and 15-3 overall. Shooting guard Sean Hunt had 13 for Hamilton.
“Our 1-3-1 is a really hard defense for most high school teams to handle,” Dow said. “A lot of guards don’t have the ability to deal with it. I think that was the difference tonight and has been all season. We have some good nights hitting shots on offense, but our defense is usually the difference for us.”
Despite the victory, Hamilton will finish second to Oriskany in the league after the Redskins clinched the CSC-4 title with a 62-53 win over Old Forge Thursday night.
Junior Alex Matrassi led the Marauders (9-4, 12-5) with 18 points, while Justin Ellsworth scored 14 points on his Senior Night.
Matrassi and Ellsworth came out firing to give the Marauders an early advantage. With New York Mills trailing 12-7 with 3:04 remaining in the first quarter, Matrassi scored seven straight points, and a lay-in by Briggs capped a 9-0 run in 2:17. The teams traded hoops to finish out the quarter with the Marauders leading 18-14.
The Marauders got off to a good start in the second quarter as Matrassi drilled a 3-pointer to give his team a 21-14 edge. However, Hamilton’s legendary head coach Tom Blackford made key adjustments on each end of the court to help the Emerald Knights turn that seven-point deficit into a six-point advantage at the half.
“It was a good win for us,” said Blackford, who has over 500 wins and was inducted to the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
“We created a lot of turnovers. It’s a very aggressive 1-3-1. In the first (quarter) we weren’t getting many (turnovers) because their guards were splitting our chaser and our wing. Once we corrected that we did a better job of getting turnovers and getting out in transition.”
The change on defense quickly resulted in a 9-0 run, capped by a steal and lay-in by Dow to give Hamilton the lead. Ellsworth answered with a conventional 3-point play to put Mills back in front, but a drive by Rutledge for a hoop and a wing 3-pointer from Dow gave the Emerald Knights a lead (30-26) they wouldn’t relinquish.
Blackford’s offensive adjustment was a simple one.
“Trevor is our best player and he usually plays the high post,” Blackford said. “I changed it and put Rutledge at the high post and he did a nice job finding people and getting our offense going.”
The move resulted in crisper passing throughout the entire team and gave Dow more space to swish his second 3-pointer of the quarter to send Hamilton into the half with a 35-29 edge.
“We changed our intensity on offense and we were able to make their zone shift more so we could get guys open shots,” said Dow, who came into the game averaging 22 points.
The Marauders closed to within three points on its first possession of the third quarter as Logan Copperwheat hit a baseline 3-pointer, but Hamilton answered with a 14-2 run to close out the quarter as Hunt and Rutledge hit from deep and Dow had consecutive hoops off turnovers that broke the game open.
“We put a lot of time in practice on our defense,” Hunt said. “It got us some turnovers and transition baskets that helped us win the game.”
The Emerald Knights all but put the game out of reach by scoring the first three points of the fourth quarter to complete the 13-0 run to make it 52-34 with 6:25 left. The Marauders finally stopped the onslaught as Dante DiOrio made a foul shot for Mills’ first points in nearly eight minutes.
Matrassi hit his third 3-pointer of the game and added two free throws to close the lead to 12 with 4:07 remaining, but Hamilton was able to milk the clock and close out the victory from the line.
“They are so long and athletic and they know where to be,” Matrassi said of Hamilton’s defense. “Someone looks open and they’re not. We had too many turnovers and they went on a run and we just couldn’t recover.”
Holding Matrassi’s offensive output was another focus for Hamilton, who tried to quickly close out on and trap the junior sharpshooter.
“He’s a really good player,” Blackford said of Matrassi. “I think we did a good job on him. He still got his points, but he didn’t hit seven or eight threes on us.”
Tarik Cigeroglu (6 points) and Ryan Grant (5 points) also had nice games for Hamilton, which closes out the regular season with home games against DeRuyter on Saturday and Owen D. Young Monday. DiOrio finished with 12 points for the Marauders, who finish with road games at Harrisville (Saturday) and Old Forge (Monday) before the sectional brackets are announced Wednesday.
New York Mills head coach Mike Meyers believes his Marauders have to mature quickly if they hope to improve against the better Class D teams.
“We have no leadership and nobody on the court wants to put people in position,” Meyers said. “How many lob passes did we make to nobody? I understand making one or two of them, but how do you not learn from it and still do it a third and fourth time?
“I think we’ve showed up to play twice this whole season where we’ve given a complete team effort. It starts in practice and when we don’t practice very hard this is what happens.”
Hamilton 60, New York Mills 51
Hamilton (11-2, 15-3): Trevor Dow 8-0 18; Ryan Rutledge 6-2 16; Sean Hunt 4-3 13; Tarik Cigeroglu 3-0 6; Ryan Hunt 0-5 5; Gabe Trontoski 1-0 2. Totals: 22-10-60. 3-Pointers: 6 (Dow 2, Hunt 2, Rutledge 2).
NY Mills (9-4, 12-5): Alex Matrassi 6-3 18; Justin Ellsworth 6-2 14; Dante DiOrio 4-4 12; Logan Copperwheat 2-1 6; Nick Briggs-Ellenberger 0-1 1. Totals: 18-11-51. 3-Pointers: 4 (Matrassi 3, Copperwheat).
JV: Hamilton won.