CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Faced with a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter, Huntington never wavered.
Instead, the fourth-seeded Highlanders relied on their fullcourt defensive pressure to score 29 fourth-quarter points and rally for a 66-63 victory over No. 5 University in a Class AAAA quarterfinal at the Charleston Coliseum.
“We didn’t give up the whole game,” Huntington coach Ty Holmes said. “I’m proud of my guys. From one to twelve, they all contributed.”
The victory sends Huntington (12-3) into a semifinal Friday against top seed Morgantown.
Reserve Brendan Hoffman was instrumental in Huntington’s rally as he scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.
“I just try to come into the game and not focus on the score and do it play by play,” Hoffman said. “Try to get my guys open and make the right play.”
With the Hawks (11-2) leading 47-37 to start the fourth, Hoffman made his presence felt by scoring Huntington’s first eight points of the quarter to trim the UHS lead to 49-45.
Still, University made 4-of-4 free throws and got a layup from T.T. Brooks to stretch its lead back to 55-47 at the 4:53 mark.
Things went south in a hurry from there for the Hawks.
Hoffman made two free throws and a three-pointer to pull his team to within three, before Zavion Johnson allowed the Highlanders to get even with a triple at the 3:43 mark.
“(Brendan) brought a lot of energy and scoring and made a lot of free throws,” Holmes said. “That’s what we need from him when he comes in. He hit some big shots and a big time three-pointer. That three is really what gave us the edge and momentum.”
Hoffman’s two free throws with 2:33 left put Huntington on top 59-57 for its first lead since 3-2. He scored inside with 2:10 left to make it a four-point game, though University’s Ryan Niceler answered with a jump shot to cut the deficit in half.
The Hawks had the ball on separate possessions while trailing 62-59 and 63-59, but came up empty both times.
Mahki Jackson made 1-of-2 free throws with 8 seconds remaining to give the Highlanders a 65-51 advantage and secure the win.
“They outplayed us down the stretch and executed really well,” UHS coach Joe Schmidle said.
The Hawks led 18-5 early and 32-25 at halftime on the strength of 56 percent shooting from the field. Although UHS had 12 turnovers, it held an 18-13 rebounding advantage and limited Huntington to 8-of-27 shooting.
“We wanted to kind of save legs for the second half to get more pressure on them,” Holmes said. “Maybe we should’ve jumped on them earlier, but we knew we were going to be nervous.”
UHS matched its largest lead of the game at 45-32 following a 13-5 spurt after the Highlanders had pulled to within five early in the third quarter. The Hawks made 5-of-9 shots in the third and had five different players score in the quarter.
University made 21-of-39 shots to finish nearly 54 percent from the field, but 26 turnovers was too much to overcome.
“We just didn’t handle the pressure well,” Schmidle said. “We weren’t physically strong enough with the ball. We have to get stronger with the basketball and take care of it better.”
The Hawks were led by a pair of seniors in defeat. Ryan Niceler had 19 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Brooks scored 16 points and added six rebounds. Blake Barkley contributed 13 points, five boards and three steals before fouling out.
Hoffman was 6 of 12 from the field and 11 of 13 on free throws, while adding four of his team’s 17 steals.
“Did I think he was going to score twenty on us in the second half when I was scouting them? No. But I knew he was a good player,” Schmidle said. “He can hoop.”
Amare Smith had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five steals in the victory.
While HHS shot just 31 percent, it finished with 25 more field-goal attempts than the Hawks. The Highlanders had a 30-2 edge in bench scoring and 28-13 in points off turnovers.