Hillside faces tall order vs. Caps
Hillside’s quickness on defense likely will be the key to its potential success in tonight’s state 4-A Eastern Regional semifinal boys’ basketball game against Raleigh Broughton.
Hillside (22-7) entered the playoffs as the No. 5 seed from the Mideast, while Broughton (25-5) was the No. 2 seed. Their 7 p.m. game opens a doubleheader at Fayetteville’s Crown Coliseum. The nightcap features Fayetteville 71st vs. Clayton.
Tonight’s winners will pair off in the East Regional championship game Saturday, also at Crown Coliseum. Saturday’s winner will meet the West champion on March 16 for the state 4-A title.
The Hornets have a deep backcourt rotation with starters D’Ontray Johnson at point guard and Ty’Quon Reid at shooting guard, and reserve point guards De’Shon Self and Isaiah Dickens pressuring opposing ballhandlers fullcourt. They’re small, all either 5-8 or 5-9, but their quickness tends to offset their size.
The pressure escalates when reserve Trevion Thompson hits the floor. Thompson, a 6-3, 190-pound junior, is one of the nation’s top college football prospects and uses his athleticism to harrass scorers from the wing to the post.
Hillside’s depth might best be reflected by the fact that Self is one of three All-PAC-6 players on the team. Johnson was an All-PAC-6 honorable mention pick.
Where the Hornets can run into trouble is when they get bogged down in the halfcourt against zone defenses. The Hornets don’t have a regular taller than 6-4 senior Marius McAllister, and he generally plays on the wing.
Malik Evans, a 6-3 junior, sticks to the low post and has been an effective inside option against players 2 to 5 inches taller on most nights, but he has to claw and scratch to get his shot. He also must avoid foul trouble.
In last week’s road upset of No. 1 seed Jordan, in which Hillside beat the Falcons for the first time in four tries this season, Evans stayed out of foul trouble. His ability to finish inside against the Falcons and 6-8 PAC-6 player of the year Jordyn Hendryx was a key to the win.
“We were better against the zone (against Jordan),” Hillside coach Crasten Davis said. “I was pretty happy about that. We put in a couple of new plays for the zone and got a lot of stuff inside.”
Broughton’s leading scorer is 6-1 point guard Devonté Graham, the Cap Eight player of the year who has signed to play at Appalachian State. Graham averages 15.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists. His backcourt mate is 6-2 wing Zach Palmer, who is not among the leaders in any main statistical category.
Up front, the Caps have talent in 6-6 honorable mention All-Cap Eight center Chris Brickhouse (6.2 points, 4.3 rebounds), 6-5 All-Cap Eight forward James Hemphill (12.5 points, 5.8 rebounds) and 6-3 Chase Johnston (6.9, 4.3).
All five starters are seniors, and Hemphill will play at Navy in the fall.
Cameron Gottfried (7.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists), a 6-2 junior wing, is the top reserve for the Caps.
“Broughton’s a drive-and-kick team (on offense),” Davis said. “They’re very aggressively defensively and very good in transition. ... They’re pretty much a (man-to-man) team (defensively). They’ll go zone every now and then for a couple of plays and they’ll use zone when they’re up quite a bit, but that’s about it from what I’ve seen watching them.”
Hillside can offset some of Broughton’s height edge with athleticism and outside shooting. All-PAC-6 wing Robert Robinson Jr., a 6-3 sophomore, is a streaky shooter (12.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg). McAllister and Self also can bury 3-pointers.
NOTES — Broughton and Hillside won their “Sweet 16” games to advance to tonight’s “Elite Eight” game in similar fashion. Broughton trailed by 11 with 2:36 left in the third quarter but rode a 20-5 fourth-quarter tide to beat Apex. Hillside was down 10 to Jordan with 1:52 left in the third before closing with a 26-15 fourth quarter. ... According to Hillside athletic director Bobby Hill, it has been 13 years since the Hornets, then a 3-A program coached by Chet Mebane, have advanced this far in the boys’ basketball playoffs. ... Hillside plans on arriving in Fayetteville well before game time to give players a chance to acclimate to the arena. “I want them to get the nervous jitters out and feel as normal as possible,” Davis said.