Hillcrest defense clamps down in win over Willard

By Kary Booher

In film sessions the past few days, it was obvious for everyone to see. Hillcrest High School coach Joel Brown saw it. So did junior guard Tim Washington and the rest of the Hornets.

Yes, the talent is there, even in the morass of a blowout loss.

“It became clear. We saw we have the athletes to really pressure the ball, get steals and make plays on the defensive end,” Washington said. “The last few games we haven’t been putting the defensive intensity on the floor.”

Washington offered those words Tuesday night after Hillcrest smothered the Willard Tigers defensively and then got a fantastic offensive output from sophomore Tyem Freeman en route to a 54-40 victory.

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Freeman scored 10 points in the opening quarter and finished with 21, just seven shy of his career high, on a night when Hillcrest employed a 2-2-1 full-court pressure defense and also triple-teamed Willard center Houston Johnson.

Johnson scored only two points, both free throws, and not until the 2:03 mark of the third quarter. He had sat the final 9 ½ minutes in the first half after getting whistled for a second foul, with Washington doing much of the work defensively against him.

The Hornets also forced many of Willard’s 25 turnovers, including 15 before halftime, when the Hornets asserted themselves. They built a 14-point advantage (26-11) with 2:03 left in the first on Hezekiah Duke’s 3 –pointer.

Guards Shahn Clark, Cole Prior, Duke and the bench had been big in the backcourt. The press defense was impressive.

In the second half, the lead hit 21 points late in the third quarter when the Hornets grabbed two of their own misses, then found Brant Schaffitzel under the basket for a bucket.

“That’s something after our first few games, when we looked at film, we were disappointed in,” Brown said. “We’ve got a lot of athletes. We’re not going to be a team that’s going to be successful by sitting back and letting the other offense dictate what they want to do. This last week in practice, we really worked on setting the tone. I thought we came out great.”

Drake finished with nine points and Clark had seven for Hillcrest (2-3), which showed how such defense can relax the offense.

For example, Freeman looked unconscious in the first half as the smooth-shooting sophomore swished home six of his first nine attempts. He connected on his first four, including two nothing-but-net 3-pointers. Brown is encouraged by his hard work in practice.

“That’s something I really worked on this summer in MoKan. I worked on post game, outside and rebounding,” Freeman said. “I really credit my team for the defense. The win is because of them. The next game, we should come out with the same mindset.”

It was a disappointing night for Willard, which fell to 4-3. The Tigers were without an injured starter in guard Stone Jackson. And while foul trouble found Johnson early, it soon caught up with the Tigers’ other big man inside, 6-foot-3 freshman Daniel Abreu.

Sam Bird led Willard with 10 points and Elijah Davis had seven.

“We had a tough time early handling their pressure, and have some unforced turnovers,” Willard assistant coach Jayme Donnelly said. “We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball.”