Rivals Hampshire and Burlington Central get fired up when they square off in any sport, but the Whip-Purs entered Wednesday night's matchup at the Sycamore Thanksgiving boys basketball tournament with added emotion coursing through their systems.
A day after 11th-year Hampshire coach Bob Barnett was hospitalized due to multiple heart attacks, the Whips played a focused, intense game with their mentor in mind. They bolted to a 9-point lead after one quarter and held off a second-half Burlington Central charge to prevail 59-54 to even their record at 1-1. The loss dropped the Rockets to 0-2.
"We just wanted to win for coach because everyone knows he wants to be here more than anything," said Hampshire senior center Shane Hernandez, who finished with 9 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals.
"So many factors and so many emotions went into this game," said senior guard Tyler Crater, who led all scorers with 18 points. "Coach Barnett, a few guys knew his situation yesterday, but the whole team knew today. That obviously fired us up."
Hampshire led 26-20 at halftime, but the Rockets scored 2 quick buckets on a Bryce Warner steal and layup and Malik Harris' fast-break conversion.
However, Hampshire responded with a 13-3 run to forge its biggest lead of the game, 39-27. That surge included 3-pointers by senior Brendan Waterworth, Crater and sophomore Matt Bridges.
Like in any good rivalry game, Burlington Central fought back. The Rockets used a 13-4 run to draw within 41-37 early in the fourth quarter, capped by junior Jacob Shutta's 3-pointer.
Again, Hampshire responded, this time with a Hernandez inside basket and 4 straight bonus free throws by Bridges and Crater. A Harris 3-pointer pulled Central within 53-49 with 52 seconds to play, but Crater countered immediately with a runout for a layup and was fouled. His free throw staked the Whips to a 56-49 lead with 48 seconds left and essentially sealed the Rockets' fate.
"We get close and we stop playing smart because we don't realize what gets us close," Central coach Brett Porto said. "When it comes down to one possession, we'll lose them on a defensive assignment, we won't be where we need to be and it balloons up to 5 or 10 again. It was very disappointing throughout, that's for sure."
Hampshire varsity assistant Michael Featherly will continue to direct the Whip-Purs until Barnett returns to the sideline, which could be as early as next week, he said.
Porto, who played against Barnett's teams as a high-school player at Central, wished Hampshire's coach a quick return.
"He's a great coach and he makes them a great team," Porto said. "They played hard without him, but I just hope he's healthy and gets back soon."