IRONTON — Hargrave Military Academy’s starting five got a quick hook Sunday.
Mount Zion Christian Academy opened a 12-3 lead over the Tigers less than five minutes into the opening game in the Ironton Classic at the Conley Center. An early timeout Hargrave coach A.W. Hamilton called didn’t register, so he took a second with 16:42 left.
This time, the first five for the Warriors joined Hamilton on the bench and a new unit came in. Connor Poice sparked a surge with three straight baskets to cut the deficit to 16-14. Moments later, the starters returned, but the shorthanded Warriors got four straight baskets for a 24-16 lead.
Not to worry as Hargrave chipped away and finally went ahead to stay (37-34) on a three-pointer by Tyrone Taylor with 2:13 left in the half. Mount Zion did keep it close in the second half, trailing 57-51 with 13:30 to play. The Tigers then went on another run and pulled away for an 89-70 victory.
“We’re going on Christmas break after today. Fourteen days,” Hamilton said. “That’s what they were thinking about, getting out of here. If you watched us two days ago, you’d have thought we could beat the (Los Angeles) Lakers.”
Taylor led all scorers with 28 points and was voted game MVP for the Tigers (16-3). He’s headed to Wichita State.
“One of the hardest working kids I’ve ever seen,” Hamilton said. “He’s in the gym non stop. Kids that work hard, play hard, good things happen. What I love is everyone of my guys can get a college scholarship. Whether it’s Division I or Division II doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care where it is. Everyone’s good enough if they work hard enough.”
Daniel Purifoy (bound for Auburn) added 11 points for Hargrave. Trey Grundy is off to UNC Wilmington.
“Crazy thing is the most athletic guy (Kejuan Johnson, commitment to Rutgers) is not with us (leg injury). We’ve got a chance to be really good. We’ve got to tweak a few things. We have a hard time matching up.”
Mount Zion had just seven players dressed and gave up a lot in size.
“They’re a scrappy team,” Hamilton said. “They’ve got five guards out there. We didn’t want to get away from what we do, press. In the first half, we didn’t turn them over. In the second half, we finally did and broke the game open. They take quick shots, miss a few layups and it gets away quickly.”
This is the third straight year Hamilton and the Tigers have come from Chatham, Va., to southeast Ohio. He plans to return and a future matchup against Huntington Prep would suit him.
“Best event in the country,” Hamilton said. “I love these guys. Coach LaFon (Ironton coach Mark LaFon) and his staff do a great job. This would be the perfect place to play (Huntington Prep). Ironton’s going to visit our place next year.”
Hamilton started his college career at Wake Forest. He transferred to Marshall and served as team captain for the Thundering Herd from 2002-2005. He was team MVP his senior season. He also worked as a graduate assistant one year.
Hamilton keeps up with Herd basketball and hopes new coach Dan D’Antoni can turn things around.
“I love the Herd man. I hope they get it going,” he said. “It’s all about recruiting. MU’s a great place to go to school, the campus is great, it’s a great town.
“You’ve got to get the right kids. You’ve got to get good players. You can draw up every play in the world, but if they can’t run them, it’s a problem.”
Hamilton also is pulling for the Herd football team when it faces Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday in Boca Raton, Fla. He checks on football scores each week and the Western Kentucky outcome (67-66 loss in overtime) puzzled him.
“I followed the score on my phone. I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Hargrave’s next game is Jan. 8 at Hampden-Sydney College in Hampden-Sydney, Va.
HARGRAVE MILITARY ACADEMY 44 45 — 89: Grundy 2-6 1-1 5, Meredith 3-11 0-0 8, Davis 3-7 1-2 7, Purifoy 5-7 1-2 11, McDaniel 0-1 0-0 0, Glover 1-5 0-0 2, Shelton 3-7 0-0 8, Taylor 11-18 2-3 28, Hoover 0-1 0-0 0, Hunter 1-1 0-2 2, Scott 3-4 0-0 6, Poice 6-7 0-0 12. Totals: 38-75 5-10 89.
MOUNT ZION CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 40-30 — 70: Fedahunsi 2-2 0-0 4, Satisfield 5-8 0-5 10, Forte 5-14 3-4 13, Pierce 8-16 0-0 16, Jujonas 3-8 2-3 8, Roddy 4-11 0-0 8, Jackson 4-10 3-3 13. Totals: 31-69 6-12 70.
3-point goals: Hargrave 8-28 (Meredith 2-9, Purifoy 0-1, Glover 0-3, Shelton 2-6, Taylor 4-9). Mount Zion 2-12 (Forte 0-1, Pierce 0-1, Jujonas 0-4, Roddy 0-3, Jackson 2-3).