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The Hampshire boys basketball team played to its considerable height advantage by sitting back in a zone defense and daring rival Burlington Central to shoot over the top Saturday night.
The Rockets were happy to oblige, but the only thing that fell for Central was its place in the Big Northern East standings. The Rockets connected on just 4-of-30 shot attempts in the first half, and Hampshire took full advantage by racing to a 36-14 halftime lead en route to a relatively easy 68-51 victory on BC's Pack the Place Night.
"We played some pretty good defense, but they didn't shoot very well in the first half," said Hampshire junior Tyler Watzlawick, who pulled down 11 rebound to go with his 6 points. "To come in here in our last year in the Big Northern and beat them like this feels pretty great."
The decisive victory on Rocket Hill gave Hampshire (12-4, 5-0), which joins the Fox Valley Conference next season, sole possession of first place in the Big Northern East, one game ahead of Burlington Central (9-8, 4-1).
"This was a big game because we were both 4-0," said Hampshire guard David Wilson, who scored 10 points and hauled in 10 rebounds. "This is our rival. We had to step up."
Hampshire led 12-3 after a quarter and broke the game open by outscoring the hosts 24-11 in the second period. Three-pointers by guards Pat Azizi (team-high 20 points) and Tyler Crater (12 points) certainly helped, but the most damage was done by hustling senior reserve Pat Dumoulin, who scored 8 of his 10 points in the second quarter.
"I just brought energy to keep the tempo of the game going," Dumoulin said of his role.
Central coach Brett Porto expected Hampshire to play zone. He didn't expect his team, which entered the game shooting 40 percent from the field, to hit 13.3 percent of its shots in the first half and 16 of 55 shots for the game (29 percent).
"If we make a couple of shots early, just 1 or 2, it changes the complexion of the game because they didn't score that much in the first quarter," Porto said. "You don't have to get out of what you're trying to do, especially when you're an undersized team and you're trying to be creative and do different things as it is."
Central junior guard Ray Hunnicutt scored 18 of his game-best 24 points in the second half, mostly by penetrating the lane. Teammate Sam Klein added 12 points on the strength of three 3-pointers. They had little support. No other Rocket finished with more than 5 points.
Despite the ease with which the Whip-Purs seized first place for themselves, their coach said plenty of work remains to be done.
"We made a lot of mental mistakes," Hampshire coach Bob Barnett said. "Did they play well at times? Yeah, but that's the M.O. of this team. There are times when we play as good as anybody around and then there are times when they just aggravate the (heck) out of me with some of the mental mistakes they make.
"They're young, I know, but I want them to grow up in a hurry so I don't have to kill myself on the sidelines."