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Hampshire's boys basketball players tested Richmond-Burton's defense the way a boxer jabs to test an opponent in the early rounds of a fight.
When opportunities presented themselves in the first quarter against R-B's guards, Hampshire's backcourt did its damage from the outside with a pair of 3-pointers from Pat Azizi and another from sophomore Tyler Crater.
And when R-B's perimeter defense finally stiffened after falling behind 18-4 through one quarter, the Whip-Purs sent the ball inside to 6-foot-6 junior Tyler Watzlawick and the big man delivered a series of haymakers en route to a 55-40 victory over the visiting Rockets in Big Northern East play Saturday.
The victory lifted Hampshire (10-4, 3-0) into a first-place tie with Burlington Central (9-6, 3-0) for the BNE lead.
Azizi (11 points) and Crater (game-high 18 points) each sank 3 shots from the perimeter in the first quarter against R-B's zone.
"We came into the game knowing they were going to play a tough 3-2 zone," Azizi said. "We just rant the offense the right way early on, got some shots from the perimeter and they were falling for us."
Watzlawick took over in the second quarter, when he scored 10 of his 13 points. He scored on a putback and a nice post move, not to mention a 12-foot jump shot he worked on all summer.
"They were playing a good 3-2 zone so it was hard to get the ball inside at first," said Watzlawick, who also grabbed 9 rebounds, "but the guards found some openings."
Meanwhile, Hampshire's defense held Richmond-Burton (5-11, 0-3) to 15 first-half points on 6-of-23 shooting. The Whips dominated the boards prior to halftime, 17-10, and won the rebounding battle overall, 32-22.
Hampshire coach Bob Barnett said he was pleased with the way his team played, though he made note of their 16 turnovers on a cold January afternoon.
"I call these the dog days," Barnett said. "It's January. The newness of the season is over, Christmas is over. Now we're into the dog days and sometimes kids that don't have a lot of varsity experience, they fall into mental lapses. I think that's what's going on."
The Whip-Purs took a 21-point lead on a Crater 3-pointer in the third quarter. Sophomore Shane Hernandez scored all 9 of his points in the second half to keep R-B from mounting a comeback.
Matt Rygiel scored 6 of his team-best 10 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Rockets, supported by 9 points from Brandon Kinsella and 7 from Zach Rygiel.
The win was the fourth straight for Hampshire, which has won 8 of its last 10 contests.
"Things are starting to click now," said Whips senior Pat Dumoulin, who added 3 points and 4 rebounds off the bench. "Knots are getting tied."