After dominating the game’s final three minutes, Crockett won its own holiday tournament Saturday night with a 64-55 win over previously unbeaten Sullivan South in the boys final of the 30th Hardee’s Classic.
“Wow, that’s impressive,” Connell said afterward. “We just played a phenomenal basketball team. South’s one of the best around. “We have lots of great leadership on this team. I’m so proud of my guys.”
In a nip-and-tuck affair all evening, the Pioneers (5-1) rode the leadership of football star Donta Hackler to this win. A senior, Hackler finished with a team-high 21 points, including eight in the fourth period.
Mason Britton and Prince Kollie, football standouts as well, combined for 24 points, and Dawson Wagner added a dozen.
“When you’ve got those guys getting every rebound and when you’ve got Donta dominating down the stretch ... they just wanted the basketball,” said Connell, whose club opened hot behind the 10 first-quarter points of Hackler, who finished the game with three 3-pointers.
Crockett, up 30-24 at intermission, led the entire first half but found itself trailing 43-38 late in the third quarter before Wagner scored on a putback and Britton hit a 3 at the buzzer, tying the game at 43 heading into the final eight minutes.
The hustling Rebels (4-1) had turned it around behind a trapping zone press.
With Crockett trailing 48-46, Kollie hit an old-fashioned three-point play to give the Pioneers the lead for good with 6:27 to play.
Back-to-back hoops from Hackler and Wagner made it a 53-48 game at the 3:58 mark. From there, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hackler carried the Pioneers home with some help from his friends.
“We had way too many turnovers down the stretch and we were not strong with the ball,” South coach Michael McMeans said. “We must be tougher, must be stronger with the ball. But we battled on the road and we’ll learn from this. Crockett just made the plays at the end that we didn’t make.”
South senior Ben Diamond had 27 points to lead all scorers. Cole Layne kicked in 18.
The Pioneers used a 2-3 zone that turned the Rebels, a team with an effective dribble-drive offense, into jump shooters in the first half.
“We have kids who can make jump shots but tonight they didn’t,” McMeans said. “We’ll see a lot of zone this year and we’ll have to deal with it.”
DANIEL BOONE 72, MORRISTOWN WEST 57
Fast starts to both halves pushed the Trailblazers (4-2) over the Trojans (3-2) in the third-place game.
Daniel Boone raced out to a 19-3 lead at the end of the first quarter, but the Trojans rallied to trail 31-26 at the half. Boone extended the lead once again in the third quarter, up 52-38 heading into the final period.
Boone had five players in double digits. Jared Atkins led the way with 15 points, followed by Cade Norris with 14 and Colby Backus with 12. Crowder Jones and Caleb Head each scored 10 points.
Trent Lovelace put up big numbers with five 3-point goals and 30 points, but the ’Blazers held him scoreless in the first quarter.
“We came out and face-guarded him,” Boone coach Chris Brown said. “We knew he was going to hit some, but we switched it up and went to the matchup. Then he got going late.”
In the fifth-place game, Mason Broome had a 19-point effort for University High and Kaleb Meredith came through with 16, but the Bucs (1-3) came up just short against Claiborne (3-2), 72-68.
Marshall Fleenor added 10 points to the University High cause.
Daniel Atkins had 20 points and eight rebounds to lead Claiborne and Aiden Goins powered his way to 20 points and five rebounds.
In the seventh-place game, Turner Bailey scored 19 points to lead North Greene to a 67-57 win over West Greene.