After a sluggish start, top-seeded Hillcrest spent much of Saturday’s championship game of the 48th annual Republic Invitational playing catch-up.
The Hornets finally caught Republic and took the lead for the first time midway through the third quarter, but Hillcrest’s offense immediately went cold and Republic went on a huge run to win its own tournament, 56-46.
“Our defense was a big difference tonight,” Republic junior Cody Geiger said. “We got stops, we didn’t let them in the paint, and our guards were pretty good too. They were good under pressure and they didn’t turn it over a lot.”
Hillcrest junior Juwan Johnson’s 3 in transition with 3:48 left in the third quarter gave the Hornets their first lead of the game at 29-26.
But that was the last time Hillcrest scored in the quarter and it started a 5:48 scoreless streak where Republic outscored the Hornets 15-0 and took a commanding 41-29 lead.
“We tried to continually switch up the defenses from zone to man,” Republic coach Trevyor Fisher said. “I’m just proud of our kids, the way we handled ourselves in pressure situations.
“We played with some poise and we played extremely hard, so if we can continue to do that, good things will happen.”
Geiger scored seven of Republic’s 15 points during the decisive run, including the start of the fourth quarter where he simply cleaned up after himself.
Geiger rebounded and put back his own miss from the right block to start the fourth quarter scoring and then rebounded and put back his own missed free throw as the Tigers began to pull away, 39-29, with 6:41 left.
“Cody has a knack for the ball and it seems the ball just ends up in his hands sometimes,” Fisher said. “I don’t think I took him out of the game. He’s just that important for us.
“He can play outside, he can play inside and he can guard multiple positions.”
Going up against a taller Republic (3-0) squad, Hillcrest (2-1) needed to limit turnovers, shoot a high percentage from the field and outrebound the Tigers.
“We missed shots,” Hillcrest coach John Schaefer said. “We played the game the same way during that stretch as we had been.
“Obviously their size is a big issue for us, but I thought we did a good job with them.”
Hillcrest was 1-for-1 from the free throw line in the loss, while in contrast Republic was 16-for-18 from the stripe.
Hillcrest put together a 9-2 run to cut the Tigers’ lead to 47-40 with 3:20 left in the game, but the Hornets couldn’t get any closer.
“Right now our offense isn’t very good,” Schaefer said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on just pressing and I think that’s caused our offense to suffer a little in practice, but it’s early.
“We’ve got lots of talent, but we’re learning; we’re still trying to figure things out.”
Geiger led all scorers with 22 points and seven rebounds and junior Dylan Bekemeier added 10 points for Republic.
Johnson led Hillcrest with 15 points and six rebounds while senior Thomas Whitaker added 14 points and senior Roy Hardy had 12 points.