The Hornets did it with defense Friday night. They jumped out to a commanding 23-7 halftime lead by holding College Park scoreless in the second quarter, then the Huntsville boys hung on and beat the Cavaliers 51-39 in a District 14-5A game at Hornet Gym.

“It was our defense tonight. That’s what coach has been talking to us about all season,” junior forward Brice Williams said after the Hornets ran their district record to 8-3.

“We knew College Park was going to come in looking for a win,” Williams added. “We’re in the race for the playoffs, so they were going to come in and try to upset us. We just had to go out there and do what we had to do.”

Williams got the Hornets going Friday when he came off a screen early in the first period and swished a 3-pointer. Senior Ed Lenoir followed suit and put the Hornets on top 6-0 with another trey.

That’s when junior Rayshadrick Johnson and Williams took over down low. Johnson scored four of his game-high 15 points, with a basket by Williams in between, as Huntsville built a quick 12-4 lead.

By the end of the opening period, the Hornets led 15-7 and they extended that advantage with an 8-0 run in the second quarter. Drae Murray hit a 3-pointer in the second, Johnson scored four points and Williams had one.

“We did a good job defensively in the first half. The second half, we didn’t play that well,” Hornets coach Doug Anderson said. “We were not moving our feet and not taking the charge. We’ve got some things to work on tomorrow and Monday to get ready for The Woodlands.”

The Hornets (18-7 overall) might have been guilty of looking ahead to Tuesday’s game against the Highlanders, especially after they built a comfortable lead in Friday’s first half. After falling behind by 18 points early in the third quarter, College Park came roaring back and cut Huntsville’s lead to 11 late in the period.

The Cavaliers (1-10 in 14-5A, 6-20 overall) got within nine midway through the fourth when Tim Barry used the backboard to score and make it 43-34. That’s as close as the Cavaliers got, though, as the Hornets buckled down and finished the game by outscoring College Park 8-5.

Anderson said the Hornets never should have let the Cavaliers get close. Huntsville missed six consecutive free throws to start the final period before Murray stepped up and hit five of six down the stretch.

“That makes my hair gray,” Anderson said. “We just didn’t shoot free throws well tonight. We went 11-for-23 from the line tonight. We had an opportunity to blow them off the floor. If we make those free throws, this is not a close ballgame.”

In addition to Johnson’s 15 points and 11 rebounds, the Hornets got eight points from Murray, seven points and three rebounds from Michael Williams, six points and four boards from Broderick Purvis and six points from Brice Williams. Ed Lenoir scored five points and yanked down seven rebounds, while freshman Kirby Ennis contributed four points and three boards for HHS.

Barry and Will Mabry scored 13 points apiece for the Cavaliers.

Friday’s victory sets up a showdown for second place on Tuesday at The Woodlands. The Highlanders shocked league-leading Klein Collins 67-61 on Friday and improved to 8-3.

Last month, The Woodlands came to Huntsville and blasted the Hornets 47-33. Brice Williams remembers well that game and says his teammates do, too.

“We’re feeling confident right now,” Brice Williams said. “We’re looking to get revenge on The Woodlands Tuesday. We’re going to have to play defense and everybody’s going to have to have their minds on the game.”

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