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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Hammonton falls to Middle Twp.

Dan Russoman/THG. Azzir Smith-Bey throws down a dunk during Hammonton’s game against Middle Twp. last week.

HAMMONTON—Playing for the first time in a week, Hammonton High School’s boys basketball team started well but eventually fell to Middle Twp. 74-54 in a Cape Atlantic League matchup on December 28.

Middle, one of the top-ranked teams in South Jersey took control in the second quarter then pulled away in the final two periods, outscoring Hammonton by 10 points in the second half.

“We just didn’t score enough to beat a team like Middle. They can do a lot of things, and they hurt us from the perimeter as well as in transition,” Hammonton coach Joe Martino said.

The game was extremely competitive early, as the Blue Devils traded baskets with the Panthers in what was an up-tempo game that featured several fast breaks and 3-point shots.

Middle appeared ready to pull away several times in the opening minutes, but senior forward Azzir Smith-Bey nearly singlehandedly kept Hammonton in the game, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the first quarter.

“That’s kind of what he [Smith-Bey] can do. He’s a dynamic player,” Martino said.

Smith-Bey connected on a pair of 3-pointers in the period and also scored on a two strong drives to the basket.

Leading by two late in the first quarter, Middle was able to take a five-point lead when Amir Elston drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Panthers ahead 23-18.

That momentum carried into the second quarter, when Middle connected on five shots from behind the arc to go on a 22-16 run and stretch its lead to 11 points at the half, 45-34.

“They made shots. We had some trouble with our defense on the perimeter and they were able to get some open looks,” Martino said.

Ta’Vonne Barber led the Hammonton offense in the second quarter and helped keep the game within reach with seven points.

Hammonton’s offense went cold in the third quarter as the Blue Devils were outscored 16-6, all but sealing the win for Middle Twp.

The teams then traded baskets for much of the final period, and Hammonton’s Kenny Smith collected eight of his team-high 18 points in the last eight minutes of play.

“The third quarter hurt us. I thought we were kind of in the game, but we just didn’t score enough to keep it close,” Martino said.

The loss dropped Hammonton to 2-3 on the season, but Martino is confident that the Blue Devils will quickly turn things around.

“We’re not playing our best basketball yet. I really think we’re going to be OK once we figure a few things out. Right now, we’re still trying to see what works, which guys complement each other the best on the court, things like that. And I think that once we get that all worked out, we’re going to make some noise,” Martino said.

The loss was the second-straight for Hammonton, which headed into the holiday break with a 44-36 loss at Egg Harbor Twp. on December 22.

In that game, Smith-Bey led the Blue Devils with 10 points.

“We lacked intensity in that game,” Martino said.

“I think if we’d had brought the same intensity in that game that we brought into today [against Middle] then we’d probably win it,” Martino said.

Hammonton is back in action on January 3, when the Blue Devils visit Cedar Creek at 5:30 p.m.


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