By Paul Thompson
Ruskin star forward Malcolm Hamilton was sprawled on the ground, writhing in pain with a dislocated wrist. In this first game of the season, RHS had just started its climb out of an early deficit against the Grandview Bulldogs. Now it seemed that momentum would vanish.
But apparently nobody gave Ruskin co-captain Deron “Bubba” Hill the memo.
After Hamilton’s injury, Hill exploded for 44 points in Golden Eagles’ 83-82 overtime victory against rival Grandview.
“As a captain, you have to step up,” said Hill after the emotional win. “I’m not going to rely on inexperienced guys to step up for me.”
Hill certainly did his part, grabbing four rebounds, dishing out three assists, and sinking several key three-pointers in his career-high 44 point outburst. Hill scored seven consecutive points in the final frenetic minutes of regulation, and his mid-range jumper with less than two minutes to play appeared to be the dagger. It was a seminal performance for the senior guard.
“It was an amazing game, full of contradictions,” said Ruskin Head Coach Gerry Marlin.
“Even though both teams are known for good defense, 165 points were scored. Losing Malcolm early and being down double figures like we were, a young team like us had many chances to give up. Deron’s leadership and our team character pulled us through. I saw a lot of our young guys grow up under fire tonight. We had a refuse-to-lose attitude. That was the best sign of all. And what can you say about Bubba? We put the ball in his hands down the stretch, and he just had a masterful game.”
Early in the game, though, it was Grandview that set the pace for the intense battle. The Bulldogs jetted out to an 8-0 lead to start the game, seizing momentum and sending their raucous home crowd into a frenzied state.
“We expected it. We expected them to come out strong,” said Marlin about Grandview’s early run. “So we had to match their intensity.”
Ruskin charged back in the exciting first quarter, pulling the score to 21-17 at the end of the first period. Hamilton starred in the quarter, putting up seven points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals. But when he fell down hard following a block attempt early in the second quarter, it was Hill’s turn to lead Ruskin to victory. Hill scored more than half of the team’s 83 points. The other 39 Ruskin points were scored by Tayron Holden, 12; Tyron Daniels, 8; Malcolm Hamilton, 7; Tyler Daniels, 6; & Terello Holden, 6.
Grandview battled down to the final whistle, and played as a balanced team. Point guard Tyrone Taylor scored six of his 23 points in the final two minutes of regulation. His buzzer-beating bomb from several feet behind the 3-point arc with only three seconds remaining sent the game to overtime, with a score of 69-69.
Co-captains Khalil Davis and Chris Spotser proved to be a dangerous duo for Grandview. Davis led the team with 28 points. Spotser scored 16 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter, leaving with nine rebounds, three assists, and three steals. But due to fouls, he missed out on the all-important overtime session. The remaining 15 Grandview points were tallied by Bulldogs Terik Lewis, 10; Nelson Nweke, 3; and Nathan Scott, 2.
Even with Spotser out, though, Davis and Taylor helped Grandview erase Ruskin's seven point lead in the final minute of regulation with a series of tough shots. After Ruskin built another substantial lead in the overtime period, Grandview fell just short of completing a second comeback.
Down six points with eight seconds to play, Grandview maximized time by rolling the ball up court, and Taylor fired a quick pass to Davis. Davis swished home a deep three with just under four seconds to play to make it a one-posession game. On the ensuing inbounds play Grandview forward Terik Lewis intercepted a deep Ruskin pass and was fouled as he came down with the ball. Lewis made his first free throw attempt before launching his second free-throw high off the backboard, in an effort to provide a tip-in opportunity and a chance to improbably tie the game for a second time. Unfortunately for Grandview, the ball banked in, effectively ending the game.
Despite the loss, Grandview head coach Randy Farris was proud of his team’s effort.
“We’re hoping to build on the effort,” said Farris after the game. “The effort was really good. I think this is going to be a resilient group.”
Even prior to the game, players on both teams knew the match-up would be a big one.
Ruskin won the season kick-off game last year in runaway fashion, dominating Grandview on the way to a 77-48 victory. It was a pill too bitter for Grandview players to soon forget.
“I feel like it is one of the biggest games we have in the regular season,” Said Grandview co-captain Chris Spotser. “(Last year) we got beat by 30. That’s why, to us, the game is built up.”
Fellow co-captains Khalil Davis and Loomis Gerring agreed that their opening game against Ruskin had special meaning. Both players acknowledged getting overconfident last season, when they felt they had the best team in Class 4A. Despite winning their conference, the Bulldogs suffered a demoralizing season-ending 90-84 double overtime loss to Harrisonville in districts.
“We thought it was just gonna come to us, and we didn’t work as hard,” said Gerring about what plagued the 2010-2011 season. “Unity and trust was lacking last year.”
For their part, Ruskin considers last year’s big victory to be ancient history. It’s a new team, new season. They’re going to Grandview’s building, in front of Grandview’s fans. Nothing is taken for granted.
“Playing Grandview, it’s never just a normal game,” admits co-captain Malcolm Hamilton.
After watching what was an instant classic of a season opener, there’s no doubt. They were right.