WINGATE – Forest Hills jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and never looked back in an impressive wire-to-wire 97-77 statement win over Butler on Jan. 26.
The Yellow Jackets are the defending 2A champions with many of the same pieces back, but the game, played to a capacity crowd at Wingate University’s Cuddy Arena, was supposed to be a back-and-forth battle between two elite area teams.
Instead, it turned into a one-sided affair early and often as Forest Hills attacked relentlessly on both sides of the floor.
The Yellow Jackets overwhelmed the Bulldogs in the beginning with Nas Tyson and Jamylan Blakeney excelling in the first half.
Tyson had 12 points, four rebounds and four assists as he masterfully directed the relentless Yellow Jacket attack. Blakeney, the 6-foot-7 superstar in the making, canned a 3-pointer to show off his outside range and finished the first half with 13 points and three rebounds.
Behind their play, the Yellow Jackets got the lead up to 35-19 midway through the second quarter but Butler, led by superstar forward Raquan Brown, wouldn’t go quietly and went on a 20-11 run to close the half only down 46-39.
Brown scored 13 of his game-high 29 points in the first half, and was becoming a matchup problem as he attacked the basket getting the Jackets out of rhythm and in a little foul trouble as Blakeney, and guards Cam Robinson and Jai Rorie would all end up with four fouls.
“I thought the one word to describe them was they were very, very resilient,” said Forest Hills coach Matt Sides. “We jumped on them early and they came right back just like we knew they would. We got to halftime and the guys in the locker room were a little down because we had lost some of the momentum. The guys got in there, looked at each other and said, ‘You knew we weren’t going to blow them out right? Let’s go play’ I love that.”
But Brown and the Bulldogs came out firing in the second half.
Butler guard Christian Peters hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 50-45 early in the third quarter as the momentum seemed to be shifting.
“Butler is good, tough and well-coached and No. 1 Raquan Brown made some tremendous plays,” Sides said. “We knew they would fight back and they did, but I thought we responded. We didn’t go into a shell, they were resilient. We got into some foul trouble there, but the guys who came in were resilient, too, because Butler was making another run there in the third quarter. I was just happy and thought we showed some really good mental toughness.”
Peters tried to keep the Bulldogs in it as he connected on four second-half 3-pointers and finished with 12 points. Jordan McPhatter added 12 points as did Brayden Dixon, who added seven rebounds, four assists and three steals to his effort.
Freshman Patrick Wessler played well at times inside and finished with six points and eight rebounds as a fill-in starter for Rajuan Conner, Butler’s second-leading scorer on the season who sat out with an injured ankle.
Brown was sensational all night, connecting on 12 field goals, mostly heavily contested with contact in the lane. He led all scorers with his 29 points and added six rebounds.
But all of it wasn’t enough.
The Yellow Jackets quickly regrouped and, with the help of senior Trey Belin who scored 13 of his 21 points after the break, went on an 18-8 run and get the game back in their hands.
Belin, who connected on four 3-pointers on the night, hit one to cap that run and get the score to 68-53, which set off the raucous crowd that was heavily in favor of the Jackets.
Sides said the game is special for the seniors, who each year look forward to playing their final game at Cutty Arena after seeing so many before them go out victorious.
“We try to have a sense of normalcy about it, but once a year we get to play over here and Wingate is just tremendous with us,” Sides said. “The partnership between our school and their school is tremendous for letting us come over here and play. This is a special moment. It’s different because it’s the last time our seniors will ever play on the court so it is a little different and a little special and a playoff-type atmosphere against a team that – if Butler were a 2A school at our level – would be a state-championship type team in a great environment.”
After Belin’s big three that capped the Yellow Jackets run, the game never got back within single figures.
Blakeney led the way with 24 points and eight rebounds, but Belin scored 21 points and added 10 rebounds and Tyson contributed 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Rorie scored 14 points and Richardson added 10 as all five starters were in double figures.
Playing without super reserve Keeshawn Tyson, the Yellow Jackets got big minutes from Jalen Huntley (seven points) and junior guards Dillon Wright and Brandon Barrier.
“I’m pleased with how we’re playing,” Sides said. “In December we went through a little stretch where we were trying to find our identity and our roles. That happens, but we’re starting to find it. Hopefully, we stay healthy down the stretch and keep getting better.”