Park senior Noah Hutchins didn’t earn the nickname “Clutchins” for nothing.
Off the back of 27 points from Hutchins, Western New York’s No. 1 large school Park set straight who the top dog in the area is, handing No. 1 small school Cardinal O’Hara their first loss of the season 71-57 in MMAA league play on Thursday in front of a sold out O’Hara gymnasium.
“[O’Hara] is deep, athletic, and explosive. In this environment, it was a very tough win,” said Park coach Rich Jacob. “I thought we were able to be mentally tough down the stretch and control the tempo, which helped us win.”
It didn’t take too long for the stars to start shining.
Hutchins and O’Hara’s recently crowned all-time leading scorer Justin Hemphill came out of the gates hot, as they finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively, to end the first quarter, as Park clung to a 20-18 lead.
However, Hutchins was not done quite yet.
After an O’Hara bucket to knot things at 20, back-to-back Hutchins layups would ignite a 16-5 run for Park (19-2, 10-0), which was capped off by a 3-pointer from his brother Caleb, to give the Pioneers a 36-25 lead.
It would turn out to be an advantage they never relinquished the rest of the way.
“I can’t give credit to myself, our whole team played well today. We knew it was going to be a big game coming in, everyone was hyping it up,” said Hutchins. “It’s a huge win built off courage. We also know next week [playoffs] start, so we have to get right back to it.”
Once Park was able to solidify their lead, despite their best efforts, the Hawks (21-1, 10-1) could not find a way to claw themselves back.
They had some momentum building plays, including an alley-oop layup from Jermaine Haynes Jr. early in the third quarter to cut the Pioneers’ advantage to 46-39, and it looked as though they could be starting a run of their own.
However, just as it seemed for the entire second half, Park had an answer as sophomore Keonjay Carter (12 points) replied with a bucket and two free throws, extending the lead back up to double digits.
Senior big man Quentin Nnagbo contributed some big shots as well, as he finished with 10 of his 18 points in the second half.
“I can’t name one thing we did really well, and versus Park, you need to do a lot of things well,” said Hawks coach Tony Pulvirenti. “I’m hoping this is something we can respond from. We still have a couple regular season games and playoff hopes.”
Hemphill led O’Hara with 15 points.
Both squads are the favorites in their respective divisions heading into the Manhattan Cup playoffs Park closes their regular season Feb. 14 and Feb. 15 against Archbishop Walsh and St. Joe’s, respectively, ending a stretch of what will have been eight games in eleven days.
The Hawks look to rebound Feb. 15 on the road against Nichols. They then play host to St. Mary’s of Lancaster on Feb. 16 in their final matchup before the playoffs.
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