Hampton boys earn season sweep of Highlands in key section matchup

Friday, January 27, 2023 | 10:08 PM

The Highlands boys basketball team scored 23 points in the first half of Friday’s clash with Hampton, a matchup of the top two teams in Section 1-4A.

The Golden Rams usually have a higher point total after 16 minutes of play, but their defense was strong as they held the equally potent Talbots to just 17 points at the break.

But when the teams came out of their respective locker rooms for the second half, Hampton came alive.

The Talbots scored the first 17 points of the third quarter and built a double-digit lead. They carried that momentum through to the final quarter of play and finished off a 51-46 victory.

“That was amazing,” said Hampton senior guard Eric Weeks, who hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with 12 points.

“At halftime, we had our heads down a little bit, but we knew we had to win the second half and come out with more energy. Coach (Joe Lafko) came in and really fired us up. We went out there and hit some big shots and went on a big run. That was just a great team win.”

Junior guard Peter Kramer led Hampton (15-2, 6-0) with 13 points, and junior guard/forward Robert Coll contributed 10 for the Talbots, who have taken control of the section.

“We knew how big of a game this was coming in, and games like that are what we live for,” Kramer said.

“That environment with the crowd and the atmosphere was incredible. We’re taking it all one game at a time, but we knew just how big of a win this was.”

Hampton added this triumph to the 73-58 victory it recorded over Highlands on Dec. 19.

The Golden Rams fell to 14-3 overall and 4-2 in the section. They came into the game having won seven in a row since the first setback to the Talbots.

Highlands will try to bounce back Tuesday as it hosts section rival Freeport.

“I thought we didn’t get some bounces tonight, unfortunately,” said Golden Rams coach Corey Dotchin, whose team came in averaging 77.1 points.

“We got some shots that we wanted with our bigs underneath and our guards outside, but they just didn’t fall like we wanted. Our defense, I thought, was much improved from the first time we played them, especially in that first half. But there are two halves of basketball, and (Hampton) made the plays they needed to in the second half.

“Our season is not over. We have a lot still to do before the playoffs and in the playoffs. Obviously, we set out to compete for section championships every year, but we can still move into the playoffs with a good seed. We have some more games we should win down the line that will help us build up that momentum. I told the guys that it’s all right to be upset with this game, but I want them to be able to learn from it.”

Hampton senior guard Brennan Murray, who had nine points, hit a 3-pointer at the 4:16 mark of the third to give Hampton the lead for good at 26-23.

Weeks, who scored nine of his 12 points in the third, followed with a 3-pointer to extend the Talbots advantage to six.

It took until the 1:36 mark of the period before Highlands was able to stop the bleeding.

Junior forward Bradyn Foster, who finished with 14 points, hit a jumper, and senior Landon Signorella added a basket to close the deficit to 34-27.

But Hampton scored the final five points of the quarter to take a 12-point lead into the final stanza.

Highlands tried to battle back, and it reduced the Talbots lead to 44-39 on a Jimmy Kunst bucket with 2:14 left. Kunst, a senior, scored eight of the Golden Rams’ 19 fourth-quarter points, and he led all scorers with 18.

But the five-point deficit was as close as the Golden Rams would get as Hampton closed out the win from the field and from the free-throw line.

The Talbots were 5 of 6 from the line in the final minute.

“We did some things in the first half that were uncharacteristic of us,” Lafko said.

“I thought we took some shots that were overly contested. Some guys took some shots they don’t normally take. I just think we needed to take a deep breath and settle down. We had a good talk at halftime about what we needed to do, and they came out and executed.

“I told the guys that I was really proud of them for generating this excitement and having the opportunity to play in front of big crowds like the one tonight.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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