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Matthew Lickona 5 p.m., Dec. 9
Balanced Cardinals shaping into Division II contender
TALMADGE – Before a packed house at Hoover High on Friday night, second-ranked Hoover claimed bragging rights against rival Morse. The Cardinals used pressure and a balanced offensive attack to down the Tigers 75-62 and claim sole possession of first place in the Eastern League.
“It’s always our favorite game of the season when we play Morse,” said Hoover senior guard Chris Jones. “The bragging rights that go along with it are an added incentive. It determines who is on top in the area.”
Hoover (19-2, 3-0 Eastern) fell behind by double digits in the first quarter as Morse shot well early on. The Tigers raced out to a 15-3 lead before Hoover finished the quarter with a 9-2 run that made it a five-point game headed into the second quarter.
“It has just become a habit for us. In some of our best games of the season we have started down and came back at the end,” Jones said. “That’s just the fight in our team.”
Hoover’s pressure overwhelmed Morse (16-6, 2-1) in the second quarter, and the Cardinals broke open a close game by scoring the final 10 points of the half to take a 35-26 lead at halftime. After an even third quarter, Hoover held an 11-point advantage.
“We love tight games because we just have the confidence that we’re going to win in the end,” Jones said. “It’s a credit to our offseason work – how much we condition and how much we work. We’re built for a full game, and teams can’t keep up with us.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, Morse pulled to within eight points of Hoover but couldn’t get closer than that as Jones put the game out of reach by scoring five quick points in unconventional fashion. With 3:37 left Jones made a layup and was fouled, and after missing the free throw the senior got his own rebound and converted that chance into a three-point play that put the Cardinals ahead for good.
“(Morse forward) Corey (Phillips) kept talking to me when I was shooting the free throw, and I looked at his foot in the lane and saw that he wasn’t ready to box me out,” Jones said. “Right when I shot the ball I knew it was going to be a little short, so I was ready to go for the rebound right away. I caught him off guard because he was still talking and he had his hands on his sides.”
Since Hoover and Morse became league foes three seasons ago, the Cardinals have won all seven meetings between the teams. Hoover has captured the Eastern League crown in each of those seasons.
“They’ve been trying to get us in league for the last four years, and they’re always right under us. We know it’s always a crucial game every time we play them,” Jones said.
Jones led Hoover with 20 points and was one of five Cardinals in double figures. Hoover has won nine straight games and is starting to position itself near the top of a crowded Division II.
“Just like we’re built for the second half of games, I think we’re built for the second half of the season,” Jones said. “We’ve already been through so much together as a team and we just keep getting better everyday. We’re building more and more trust in each other.”
Despite losing star forward Angelo Chol to graduation, the 2011-12 edition of Hoover might be better than its predecessors. Cardinals head coach Ollie Goulston said an added year of maturity and overall team depth have been key factors, adding that this year’s team reminds him of the 2007-08 team that won the Division II crown.
“This year if you take one thing away, we have so many different guys that can put the ball in the basket in variety of ways,” Goulston said. “We have a lot of weapons and it’s a fun group to coach.”
For Morse, junior guard Alphonso Wilson scored a game-high 21 points and Phillips added 16. The Tigers host Hoover on Feb. 10 in the second round of league play.
Hoover – 75 (12-23-19-21)
Jones 20, Booker 13, Davis 11, Northard 10, Nolen-Webb 5 (starters) Holiday 13, Sims 3
Morse – 62 (17-9-17-19)
A. Wilson 21, Phillips 16, Burger 10, Simmons 8, Sellers 0 (starters) Hueitt 5, McDonald 2
Pictured: Morse guard Alphonso Wilson leaves his feet to fire a pass past Hoover guard Sabet Abiel