Talented Hillcrest subdues Rebels

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 10, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; When you’re the kings and reside on a plush throne, things don’t rattle you as easily as they do the minions of the world.

A foreshadowing set of events in Friday’s Mississippi Private School Association 2-AAA showdown came early on when Adams County stormed out of the gates on a 5-0 run.

Hillcrest answered that surge with an 8-0 run, and then held off a late Rebel (10-2, 3-1) charge for a 56-46 victory for the defending Overall champs.

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AC trimmed what was once a 23-point Cougar (8-4, 3-0) lead to six late in the fourth quarter before Hillcrest swished some clutch free throws.

&uot;We’ve gotta play better basketball with the lead. The main thing for us is that this is a new group and they’ve gotta learn how to play together,&uot; Cougar head coach Wade Heigle said. &uot;We don’t have one of the starting five back from last year’s Overall team.&uot;

Hillcrest handcuffed the Rebels to five points in the paint and kept the usual potent AC fastbreak offense to six points.

Rebel junior guard Dustin Case went off for a game-high 29 points, including six 3-pointers, half of which came in the fourth period to keep AC in the game late.

However, no other Rebel player scored more than 4 points, as senior power forward Luke Ogden was held without a point against the play of Hillcrest post Nick Burcham, who had 10 points.

&uot;(Hillcrest) did a super job on cutting our post offense out,&uot; AC head coach John Gray said. &uot;The times we did get it in there, they jammed it up so heavy. They were able to contain everything and take away the inside. It made it tough.&uot;

Hillcrest abandoned the 2-3 zone defense, which was so effective early, in the fourth period when Bob Ulmer gym started raining down treys.

Case dialed long distance for the third time in the period with 3:01 remaining to get AC within single digits, 50-41, for the first time since the Cougars led 19-10 early in the second.

&uot;We have to learn from games like this. We’ve had trouble with playing with the lead before,&uot; Heigle said. &uot;We’re getting better. (Madison Ridgeland) destroyed us the other night, but we learned a lot from that game.&uot;

Back-to-back buckets from Ray Simpson, his only four points of the game, cut the gap to six, 51-45, with a buck-56 to play.

The Rebels had a chance to get within five in the final minute, but Casey Gould missed both attempts at the charity stripe with 39.8 seconds left.

Chandler Pleasant made one of two and Len Toplind, who led the Cougars with 17 points, connected on both in the next 20 seconds to seal the deal.

&uot;I’m so proud of our kids for getting it back to (six). It took a lot out of us to make that run, though,&uot; Gray said. &uot;They fought back and not only gave us a chance to win, but gave the fans a ballgame.&uot;

Thanks to an assist from Glenn Williams, who was held to just4 points, Case dropped in a layup and followed it up with a trey for a quick 5-0 lead in the opening 41 seconds of the game.

Undaunted, Hillcrest stormed back on the strength of a 15-3 run, including a 80-second stretch where Toplind scored seven points.

&uot;I told the coaches on the bench when you jump on a team that quick and it doesn’t bothered by them, you’re in trouble,&uot; Gray said. &uot;It didn’t faze them a bit. We’re as quick with three of our players, but we couldn’t do anything on the offensive boards. It put me a situation of how soon to go after them.&uot;

Heigle said his Cougars were unable to match AC’s emotion from the tip.

&uot;(AC) had some fire in them,&uot; he said. &uot;The thing that impressed me about them was every single moment our intensity went down they jumped on us.

&uot;(The Rebels) did it to us right before the half. They went on a (6-0) run and instead of being down 23, they’re down 18. We made mistakes and they capitalized on them.&uot;

The yarn quickly unraveled in the second period for AC, as it watched the Cougars blow the doors wide open with a 19-3 run.

Only triples from Brent Dossett and Case in the final 61 seconds got the Rebel deficit under 20 points heading to the break.

&uot;He’s been struggling with his shot, so maybe this will get him started,&uot; Gray said of Case. &uot;Hopefully we can start to get the ball inside against people who aren’t as quick. On any given night (Hillcrest) can beat a top two or three team in the state.&uot;