Hillery’s big night helps Central boys hold off Mill Creek 69-61
LAWRENCEVILLE — Mill Creek’s boys spent much of their Gwinnett Daily Post Challenge game against Central Gwinnett trying to pull themselves out of a first-half hole, and nearly did so.
But Jalen Hillery and the host Black Knights simply would not let the Hawks climb all the way out, with the 6-foot-5, 195-pound senior posting a double-double with 40 points and 10 rebounds to blunt any comeback attempt in Central’s 69-61 victory Saturday night.
“I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that Jalen Hillery is a heck of a player” Central coach Branden Mayweather said. “He has been the whole time he’s been here. Having his senior leadership late in games is crucial.
“It feels like every game has been a one-point game or triple-overtime game. But they’re learning. We’ve got a bunch of young guys who are starting to learn that you have to play for a full 32 minutes to win a ball game.”
The Black Knights (5-7) played well enough for most of the first half, especially a 14-1 run over a 4:04 span of the second quarter that ballooned their advantage to 31-14 before taking a 35-20 lead into intermission.
But Mill Creek (5-6) slowly began to chip away in the second half, with the Hawks twice pulling as close as five points in the third quarter, that last time at 43-38 following a steal and lay in by Kendall Latney with 1:12 left in the period.
“I thought we found some guys who wanted to compete there in the third quarter, and we kind of rode them,” Mill Creek coach David Allen said. “That’s what I’m looking for, guys who are going to compete.”
But after a Tre Rice jumper pulled Mill Creek to within 48-42 with 5:41 remaining, Hillery provided Central with an answer with a layup off a feed from Jalen Morgan, pull-up jumper and two long 3-pointers in transition in a 1:49 span, part of a 12-2 run that pushed the Black Knights’ lead back to double digits at 60-44 with 2:31 left.
“Every time I get hot, my teammates look for me, and I get fired up,” Hillery said. “I just put it in my head that … my teammates need me, and I just get kick-started.”
And Hillery had help down the stretch when Mill Creek made one last run to bring the lead down in double digits, with the senior combining with Skyler Adams, Bernard Kasanda and Julian Grajales to go 9 of 13 at the foul line over the final 2:17 to ice the victory.
Adams finished with eight points for Central, while Grajales contributed six rebounds, Derrick Lawrence chipped in five assists and Kasanda dished out four assists.
Rice, Matthew McDowell and Christian Mancillas each had 13 points to lead Mill Creek, with McDowell also pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds and Mancillas adding six boards and three assists.
The Hawks also got 10 points from Noah Kenney.