Duluth’s Bryce Wooten (22) takes a hook shot over Kell’s JT Turner (5) and Austin Rochez (15) during the Duluth Jingle Jam Basketball Tournament in Duluth Saturday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
DULUTH — Thanks to a few injuries to key players, it’s taken a little while for Duluth’s boys to get in full gear so far on the young season.
The same was true during the finale of the Jingle Jam on Saturday night at Duluth, but once the Wildcats got going there was no stopping them.
Defense, led by Zaynah Robinson on the perimeter and Eric Hamilton inside, ignited the offense as Duluth outscored visiting Kell 21-5 in the third quarter to pull away for a 66-42 win.
Hamilton posted game highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Robinson finished with 21 points, five assist and four steal as the Wildcats (9-5) recorded their sixth straight win.
“Sometimes, you have to wake up,” Duluth coach Eddie Hood said. “And we had to wake up a little in the first half. We came out sleepwalking a little. It’s hard when not many people are here because of the holidays. But we came out on fire in the second half, made a few adjustments, went to the zone and … it worked.”
Early on, it was Kell that displayed more energy, with baskets by J.T. Turner led a 9-1 run over the final 4:03 of the first quarter to leave the Longhorns (4-8) with a 15-9 lead.
Duluth started waking up in the second quarter, with a 9-2 run led by Hamilton’s six points and three more by Anthony Showell vaulted the Wildcats into the lead at 22-19.
But the lead was still just two points at 26-24 by halftime after Jarvis Jones drove the lane for a layup with 21 seconds left.
That situation did not sit well with the Wildcats, and they aimed to do something about it in the second half.
“Whenever we come out a little slow, we just try to get the energy going,” Robinson said. “Everybody just came out ready to play. … I can’t exactly pinpoint what (the trigger) was, but when we came back in the locker room during halftime, we were like, ‘We’ve got to step it up. Everybody’s got to step it up.’ And everybody came out to play in the second half.”
Once again, it was Hamilton and Robinson leading with way, with the rest of the Wildcats joining in.
A Hamilton jumper, followed by a 3-pointer from Robinson and a baseline drive from Kai Lambert push the lead to to 33-26, Qua Alexander managed to get to the line to hit two free throws to pull Kell back to within 33-24 with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
But those were the last points the Wildcats allowed the Longhorns until there were just five seconds left in the period.
In the interim, Duluth reeled off 14 straight points, with Robinson and Obinna Ofodile ignited the charge by turning up the defensive pressure with steals and blocked shots that led to four fastbreak buckets in the final 1:15 of the quarter.
By the time Kell finally scored again on Jones’ 3-pointer just before the end of the quarter, the lead had ballooned to 47-29, and the Wildcats poured it on in the fourth quarter to pull away.
While Hamilton and Robinson were the only players in double figures, Duluth also got contributions throughout the line-up, with Showell finishing with seven points, five rebounds and four assists, Lambert adding four points, seven boards and two steals and Ofoldile chipping in three points, three rebounds and three blocked shots.
Jones led Kell with 10 points, while Grant Bryant had nine points and seven rebounds despite being limited by foul trouble.
Hillgrove girls 66,
Trailing by as many as 20 points late in the third quarter, the Wildcats (7-7) attempted a furious comeback in the fourth.
And when Katie Powell hit a pair of free throws with 2:04 remaining, Duluth trailed by just six at 59-53.
But a layup by Tene Thompson and two free throws from Mackenzie Engram over the next 1:05 helped the Hawks (11-2) push the lead back to double digits and finally put the game away.
Powell finished with 17 points, while Endia Banks had 19 points to lead the Wildcats. Bree Dixon also had a good night with six points and seven assists, while Leah Petit came off the bench to contribute seven points and seven rebounds.
Engram led all scorers with 26 points, while Hillgrove also got 15 points from Thompson, and Ja’lyn Reese chipped in five points, four rebounds and seven assists.