Tyus Battle tallied 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists and made it look effortless.
The rest of his Gill St. Bernard’s boys basketball team rolled up their sleeves and worked overtime.
That combination lifted the Knights to a surprisingly easy 57-45 triumph at Hillsborough Saturday afternoon.
“We have Tyus but after that there’s not Division I players roaming all over the place,” Gill coach Mergin Sina said. “Defense and rebounding are a big part of what we’re doing this year. Everybody is chipping in and playing hard. I’m really enjoying coaching this group.”
Battle is a coach’s dream. The sophomore sensation’s points came off of high-percentage looks in the flow, and he involved teammates John Michael Mea (six points), Ian Demarest (seven points) and Adam Mitola (six points). His hardwood IQ is advanced in the mold of Jaren Sina, last year’s floor general who on Saturday scored eight points in Seton Hall’s upset win at Georgetown.
“I had to take the really big leadership role that Jaren had last year, to motivate my guys,” Battle said. “A lot of them haven’t played many varsity minutes yet. I tell them, keep playing even if the shots aren’t falling.”
They did that, outrebounding a frontcourt-heavy Hillsborough squad that prides itself on cleaning the glass. The count was 28-25. Gill also fared better on 50-50 balls.
“First game all year we got outrebounded,” Hillsborough coach Ian Progin said. “We outrebounded Linden last week. This week they outworked us.”
Hillsborough (7-2) led 20-14 early in the second quarter before Battle ignited a 14-2 run to close out the half. The combo guard, who is being recruited by Indiana, Syracuse and other heavyweight college programs, scored 10 in the spree and showcased his varied offensive arsenal against Hillsborough’s 2-3 zone.
“He was very efficient and that’s the thing about him,” Sina said. “He understands he has to take shots when the opportunity is there, but he knew in a game like this it would be a half-court grind against the zone. It was probably the best game I’ve seen him play because he didn’t force anything. For a sophomore that’s a big thing.”
Senior forward Jalen Parham paced Hillsborough with 14 points and seven rebounds. Backup guard Rob Askes scored nine on three 3-pointers.
“I know they’re hurting, I know they’re upset, I know they’re frustrated,” Progin said. “I’ve got to coach better. They’ve got to play better. They have to have more discipline. Our chemistry has to be better.”
Progin added, “As I said in the preseason, (Gill) is the team to beat until somebody beats them. They’ve got the best player in the county and it’s not close. Montgomery and Ridge are real solid teams too. I don’t know that we’re at their level. We’ve got to do a lot of things better.”
The result puts Gill (8-2) in good position to earn the top seed in the Somerset County Tournament, although Montgomery could make a case. Last year the Knights went in as heavy favorites but got stunned by Ridge in the final.
“When you look at last year’s team we had had all the talent, but the kids have to realize we’re not going to walk through the county,” Mergin Sina said. “You have to play hard every game. These kids know that.”