POTTSTOWN >> When Hill School head coach Phil Canosa addressed his players at halftime during Friday night’s game, he didn’t have much to say.
He didn’t feel the need to curse, throw a chair or slam his fists in frustration.
Rather, he put a positive spin on things, stressing to his players that a two-point lead simply would not be enough.
The Blues evidently got the message as The Hill used an 11-3 run to start the second half on their way to a convincing 71-50 win over Kiski School during the opening round of the Mercer Invitational Tournament.
“They knew enough that they weren’t playing well early on,” said Canosa of the conversation at halftime. “So I said, ‘Hey look, I could scream at you guys right now, but I’m not gonna do that. I think you guys are feeling what I’m feeling right now. That’s not our best basketball.’”
After capping a turnover-filled first half on the wrong end of an 8-0 run, the Blues came out in the second half a whole new team. The Hill (6-3 overall) controlled the tempo, dominated the glass and got itself settled in inside the paint.
Senior guard Chase Audige scored nine of his 13 points in the third quarter while fifth-year guard Nick Alikakos scored five on the way to a team-high 16 points. The pair connected on a sweet alley-oop late in the quarter as Alikakos flipped one back to Audige who hammered it down to make it 48-39 midway through the quarter.
“We needed to step up our intensity in the second half,” said Audige, a William & Mary commit. “We were flat in the first half and we knew it.”
“We came out and played how we knew we could,” said Alikakos, who’d spent the past four years at Episcopal Academy. “We brought a lot of energy out with us in the second half and got things going offensively.”
From then on, the Blues were in complete control. The Hill ended the third quarter with an 11-0 run, then extended it to a 17-1 run with about six minutes left in regulation to take a 64-39 lead.
Sharp-shooting freshman forward Gabe Dorsey knocked down a 3-pointer in each quarter on the way to 12 points while senior guard DaQuan Morris finished with seven.
His team’s second-half effort was more along the lines of what Canosa had expected all along. Now in his first season since taking over as head coach for longtime head coach Seth Eilberg (on sabbatical), the longtime assistant has the bar set pretty high already for his players.
“We had a great win at the Babson (Mass.) Tournament last week against New Hampton — that’s a storied program,” he said. “But that was a game where we took care of the ball and we shared it … Different guys were contributing. That’s Hill basketball, that’s what we practice and aim for every day.
“So it’s frustrating when you’re in the first half and you’re not playing that kind of basketball. We know what we’re capable of.”
Following this weekend’s Mercer Tournament, Hill School will go on break then begin Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) play in January. From there, with a few tournaments in between, the Blues will enter the MAPL playoffs, followed by the PA Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) playoffs in February.
With a slew of returners on this year’s squad, Audige believes this year’s crop of Blues could be poised to make a run this postseason.
“I think we’ve got more talent than we had last year,” he said, “and we’re a really close unit. I think that will help us during the year.”
Meanwhile, what felt like a second-half revelation for one end Friday felt like a collapse to the other. Kiski was outscored 40-21 in the second half and had gone cold all over the floor.
“That’s a good team, they’re athletic at every position,” said Kiski head coach Damien Williams. “That makes them really tough to hang with, especially for four quarters. We played hard in the first half — had good energy. But we let them pull away from us in the second half.”
Kiski School sophomore guard Asa Klimchock led the way with a game-high 21 points while senior wing Jake Pandza battled for 12 points, including 10 during the second quarter.
* * *
Hill School will be back in action Saturday with a 4 p.m. semifinal game against the winner of Western Reserve/Canterbury School. Kiski will take on the loser of the game in the consolation bracket.
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