Defense powering Hampton boys basketball

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Saturday, January 20, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Three days after Christmas, the Hampton boys basketball team wasn’t feeling very joyful.

The Talbots were tied with upset-minded Grove City, 28-28, midway through the third quarter of the Hampton Holiday Tournament championship game. Star senior guard Peter Kramer was in foul trouble and still hadn’t scored a point.

So the Talbots got defensive.

Hampton went on a defense-fueled 19-0 surge en route to a 51-34 victory that has kicked off a suffocating run by the Talbots.

“Defense is always our biggest focus in practice,” Hampton 6-foot-9 senior center Liam Mignogna said. “It’s hard to win a game when you score in the 40s.”

While Kramer (22 ppg) spearheads an increasingly balanced offense, the Talbots have used a smothering defense to climb to No. 3 in the Jan. 14 Trib HSSN WPIAL Class 4A rankings and claim sole possession of first place in Section 1-4A following a 51-49 victory over Knoch on Jan. 12 on Mignogna’s buzzer-beating hook shot.

As of Jan. 18, Hampton (12-2, 5-0) was allowing 44 points per game, the top mark of any team in the WPIAL’s three biggest classifications.

In the first two weeks of January, Hampton held Highlands (41), Freeport (31), Knoch (49) and Greensburg Salem (22) to their lowest point totals of the season as part of a seven-game winning streak.

“Defense travels and defense will be consistent,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “We’re just continuing to work on things we do well defensively.”

The defensive clampdowns came after Hampton lost to WPIAL Class 5A No. 3 Shaler (53-34) and Fox Chapel (50-42) in a three-day span the week before Christmas.

“It was a tough week for us,” Lafko said. “We had to adjust and bounce back from those losses. I was proud of the way the kids continued to work.”

In the 49-41 victory over Highlands on Jan. 2, the Talbots limited Golden Rams leading scorer Bradyn Foster, a 6-8 senior guard/forward, to 10 points, fewer than half of his 22.0 per-game average. They held Highlands’ other top threat, senior guard Cam Reigard, to nine points, well below his 16.6 average.

Hampton is charging toward its second consecutive section crown — the Talbots last season snapped an 11-year section title drought — and a top-four seed in the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs. Kramer, who was ineligible for the postseason last year, is the catalyst. The Lehigh-bound 6-5 guard scored 24 or more points in eight of the first 13 games, including 31 against North Hills, 30 against Peters Township and 29 vs. Knoch.

“When he plays really well, we play well,” Lafko said. “There were some games in the middle of the year when he wasn’t playing at his best. But (against Knoch) he had another outstanding game.”

Kramer scored only three points in the foul-plagued game against Grove City, but Mignogna (15 points, 10 rebounds) and senior forward Robert Coll (13, 10) responded with double-doubles.

“Teams are going to have to double-team Peter if they want to contain him,” Mignogna said. “That opens up the floor for all of us and gives us better shots. Whether he has zero points because they are double-teaming him or he has 30 points, he is helping the team.”

Senior shooting guard Alex Nyilas, a first-year starter, scored in double figures in 10 of the first 14 games and was named to the all-tournament team at the Hampton holiday event.

“It’s a complement to team basketball when you are able to have guys step up in different moments,” Lafko said. “Certainly, Peter is not always going to be at his best in each game and other people have to pick up the scoring. That kind of complementary basketball is something that successful teams demonstrate.”

The Talbots have always been able to count on their defense. They have consistently held in check the leading scorers on opposing teams. Lafko’s players are comfortable playing man-to-man, zone or any number of gimmick defenses designed to shut down a certain player or players from the opponent.

“We try to take away what teams are good at,” Mignogna said. “I think we’ve done really well with that so far.”

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