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Hawks' late run beans Cecil

January 08, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown Community College basketball team was starting to rubberneck.

The Hawks went from high gear into neutral and began standing around and looking while squandering a 15-point halftime lead. But instead of turning into a three-car accident waiting to happen, HCC just turned the game over to Ramblin' Rexson.

HCC point guard Rexson Kenley, who has never seen an open floor he didn't like, put his pedal to the metal to restart the Hawks in the final eight minutes Wednesday as the Hawks broke a 66-66 tie and pulled away to an 88-78 victory over Cecil at the HCC athletic complex.

"When things are going fast, that is exactly what his game is," HCC coach Kenny Keyes said. "My assistants want to slow him down, but the faster he goes, the better. He's got to play his game. If we don't use his quickness, he can't help us because he's too small to go inside."

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Kenley beat Cecil (12-2), the No. 2-rated team in the Division II junior college ranks, at its own game. The sophomore outran the more physical Seahawks to ignite an 18-7 run that all but put the game out of reach.

Kenley scored eight points and Terrell Kittelberger added five of his game-high 25 points to push HCC from near disaster into a 84-73 advantage with 2:16 remaining.

"I love transition," Kenley said. "I love the fast break. That's our No. 1 offense ... that's what Coach keeps telling us."

The wide-open pace suited HCC early as it broke a 15-15 tie with a 16-7 run in the middle stage of the first half. The Hawks were quicker to the hoop than the more physical Seahawks and created easier shots. The lead grew to 49-34 at the half.

But Cecil slowed HCC's pace in the second half with a sticky man press followed by a 2-3 zone which pushed the Hawks' offense out higher from the basket than they like.

Cecil took chunks out of the deficit as the Seahawks spread the load evenly while turning the Hawks passive. The 15-point lead evaporated into a 62-62 tie with 8:10 remaining when Keyes called a timeout.

"I told them to go out and attack," Keyes said. "We had been on them to make smart use of the clock and to slow things down, but it got our momentum. We had a couple of guys hurt at the half (Thomas Johnson and Ray Gamble) and we made some switches which slowed us down. We're a running team. We have got to have a quick pace. If it slows down, we are in trouble."

The tentativeness caused by a two-game losing streak got the best of the Hawks until the game was tied. The timeout convinced HCC to cut loose.

"When we called time, Coach told us to be more aggressive," Kenley said. "We tried to keep up the pace, but we were patient and got things going our way."

The game turned for the Hawks when they were able to sneak behind the Seahawks' 2-3 zone for easy shots. Once HCC re-established the lead, it turned Cecil into a desperate 3-point shooting team.

"I told them to play their game. We were trying to be too fine," Keyes said. "One of the keys was when we got Ray (Gamble) into the game. He had his best performance of the year and Terrell (Kittelberger) played his smartest game."

Cecil got no closer than eight points the rest of the way despite 23 points by Cantrell Fletcher, who hit five 3s, and Dwight Dean. HCC countered with 18 by Kenley and 13 from Gamble to back Kittelberger.

"This was our biggest win of the year," Keyes said. "After two loses in a row and playing without our best players (Johnson). If we continue to realize we can do that and keep playing, we will be all right."

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