Boys Basketball Rallies into Finals

Facing double-digit deficits for much of the afternoon, the boys varsity basketball team rallied late in the second half to pull out a gritty 72-68 victory over Milton in the semifinals of the Class A New England tournament.

A turning point in the game came with 5:53 remaining, when J.J. Paul ’22 made a layup to cut the margin to 60-52, and then Milton’s leading scorer was whistled for a charge driving into the lane. From that point on, the Bearcats (22-1) outscored the Mustangs 20-8.

Paul finished with 16 points and six rebounds, joined by Brandon McCreesh ’23 (19 pts.), Kenny Noland ’22 (14 pts.) and Johnnie Walter ’22 (11 pts.) in double figures.

Shooting woes and a tough, physical inside defense by Milton made baskets hard to come by for the Bearcats, who shot nearly the same from deep (41%) as from inside the arc (44%).

Hotchkiss earned its win from the line, making 15 of 20 free throw attempts. Milton had only seven free throws on the day.

After Hotchkiss jumped out to an early first-half lead at 8-2, the Bearcats seemed to be in control of the pace of play. But Milton rallied with timely shooting and patient offense, taking its first lead of the afternoon at 22-21 with 5:39 remaining in the first half.

As Hotchkiss shooters struggled to find the bottom of the net, the Milton lead grew to five points at 29-24, and then ten points at 36-26. A quick five-point flurry behind baskets from Nosa Okunbo ’22 and McCreesh cut the deficit in half and Milton entered the locker room leading 36-31.

The second half would see more of the same, with Milton making timely outside shots to build and maintain its lead. The Mustangs opened another double-digit lead with 12 minutes remaining at 47-37, and expanded the lead to its biggest margin at 54-43 with just over half a period left to play.

Following the charge call, the Bearcats started methodically chipping away at the lead, urged on by a raucous Fowle Frenzies crowd. Walter made one of several second-half layups to close the gap to six at 60-54, and then a three-pointer by McCreesh cut the lead in half at 60-57.

The gym exploded two minutes later when McCreesh drove the basket to give Hotchkiss its first lead of the half at 63-62, but Milton responded with another three-pointer to regain the lead.

McCreesh provided another highlight shortly after, stealing the ball and then driving to the basket for an and-one, although he missed the free throw to keep the score knotted at 65.

A free thrown by Noland and another basket by McCreesh gave Hotchkiss a narrow 68-65 lead, but Milton responded with their own three-point play under the basket to tie the game again.

The final points came on another drive and dish from Noland to Walter, followed by a pair of free throws by Paul with 16 seconds left to seal the win.

With the victory, Hotchkiss earns another berth in the championship game, its second consecutive opportunity to win a title (with last year’s tournament not being held). The Bearcats will host #3 Belmont Hill, who earned a convincing 68-46 victory over #2 St. Sebastian’s in their semifinal.

The championship will take place in Fowle Gym on Sunday Mar. 6 at 2:00 p.m.


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