hightower 53, barbers hill 46 Coach asks … and his Hurricanes answer
PASADENA — During a timeout with a few seconds remaining in Thursday night’s Class 5A Region III area-round game against Barbers Hill, Hightower coach Stephen Woods asked his team a simple question.
“What more can you ask for as a basketball player and as a competitor for it to come down to ‘In order to get the win, we have to get the stop?’” Woods said. “What more do you want?”
Kristopher O’Neal didn’t waste time answering.
His steal off an in-bounds pass and subsequent layup helped seal a topsy-turvy 53-46 win for the Hurricanes at Phillips Fieldhouse.
Hightower is in the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2016.
O’Neal’s bucket gave Hightower a 51-46 lead. Barbers Hill’s subsequent miss led to another open layup for O’Neal as an emotional ecstatic Hightower bench celebrated while their Eagles counterparts were gutted.
These two teams spent the night matching wits.
Hightower had to survive Barbers Hill’s box-and-one defense that denied star freshman Bryce Griggs the ball early on.
Griggs finished with nine points, but Woods noted the young guard found other ways to impact the game by distributing the ball. Hightower countered with hustle plays, too, especially from guard Kevin McGaskey in the first period.
Hightower slowed the pace down in the second period and stalled. It grounded Barbers Hill’s shooting.
Hightower only outscored Barbers Hill 8-4 in that second period, but it expanded the halftime lead to 24-17.
But the lead wouldn’t last.
Max Armer changed the game in the second half, though.
He scored 12 points to open the third period — 19 of his 26 points came in the second half. When he found his fourth field goal of the third period, Barbers Hill led 31-29.
Hightower did not have a field goal through nearly seven minutes in the period when Chris Felix hit a jumper at the 1:21 mark to tie the game again at 31.
Armer actually had a big layup through traffic that tied the game late once again at 46.
“Losing is never in Max’s vocabulary,” Barbers Hill coach Chris Pennington said. “He doesn’t accept it. It’s not going to happen.
“If we do lose it surprises him because he is a competitor and he ain’t scared of anybody. He’s a warrior.”
Barbers Hill was down two key guards in Mason Daniels and Kyler Duhon in the final minutes. Each had five fouls. Pennington says they hadn’t fouled out all year.
The final seconds of the game were also Felix’s time to shine for Hightower. He finished with 15 points with much of his activity coming in the fourth period.
Felix had a huge putback bucket that tied the game at 44 with 1:20 remaining. He didn’t miss free throws when sent to the line. One free throw in particular was big after he was fouled on a layup. It gave Hightower a 49-46 lead.
Then, O’Neal struck. A Barbers Hill player slipped which allowed O’Neal the steal.
“I put pressure on him,” O’Neal said. “He slipped. Got it back and went right back up with it. It feels amazing. I’m speechless.”