On Monday’s short bus ride to E.C. Glass, Heritage guard Kyron Thomas thought about something his coaches say whenever the two rivals play.
“They say every game [against Glass] somebody steps up,” the senior said. “And I was thinking about that on the bus ride. I was like, ‘Dang, I should step up this game.’ And that’s what I did.”
In what turned into the lowest scoring game between Glass and Heritage in more than a decade — a bout defined more by turnovers, long droughts and on-court scuffles than scoring binges — Thomas made all the difference.
He was the only player for either team to finish in double figures, pouring on 11 points, including back-to-back buckets in a furious fourth quarter when Heritage needed them most — and the Pioneers upset the Hilltoppers inside McCue Gymnasium, 40-36, in the first of two regular-season meetings between the rivals.
With HHS (7-3, 4-0 Seminole) trailing by two points and less than two minutes remaining, Thomas caught a pass from teammate Brandon Tweedy on a fast break and tied the score at 34 with a layup.
On Heritage’s next possession, the Pioneers star wide receiver drained a 10-foot jumper for a 36-34 lead that his team never relinquished.
Heritage forward Bre’Andre Horlsey (six points, six rebounds) set the screen for Thomas.
“And when I came off the screen I was so open I was like, ‘I’ve gotta take this shot,’” Thomas said. “I was just feeling it because my team had given me that energy [coming] off the bench.”
After Heritage’s Jacobi Lambert hit two free throws for a four-point lead, Glass narrowed the deficit back to two off a layup by Reashawn Spaulding with 7.9 seconds left. But the Hilltoppers had to put Lambert back on the line, and the junior knocked down both free throws again.
Lambert, who entered averaging 20 points per game, was held to just seven points and was 1 of 7 from the field.
“I know I didn’t get the open shots that I wanted to and all my shots weren’t falling. I know every time I turned around there was a double team. I know I didn’t make some of the right plays some of the time, but hey, we came together and we got the W,” Lambert said.
There were heroics, but the game wasn’t pretty.
Glass, which scored 102 points in a win over Stuarts Draft last month and put up 31 points in the fourth quarter of that game, struggled to get to 36 on Monday.
The Hilltoppers (7-3, 4-1) shot just 28% from the field, went more than nine minutes without a field goal in the first half and missed all nine of their first-half layup attempts.
“Kyron played out of his world,” Glass coach DJ Best said. “He’s a fantastic athlete. It got a little physical and I felt like our guys lived up to the moment for a little bit, but again, we just haven’t played a complete game yet. We just cannot string it together and play a complete game.”
Glass led twice against Heritage: once in the opening minutes and then again in the fourth quarter when a layup by Brian Hunt (six points) gave the ‘Toppers a 28-27 lead.
Guard Hugh Wood stretched that lead to four with 3:21 remaining when he hit a 3 from the right corner. Wood, who sparked Glass’ comeback less than a minute earlier with a 3 from the top of the key, finished with nine points.
“Good defense by both teams,” Glass forward Jack Brestel said. “They just made more plays than us when they counted.”
Brestel said Monday’s loss will give his team more resolve to defeat Heritage when the two teams meet again Feb. 3.
After getting that fourth-quarter lead, Glass turned the ball over several times against Heritage’s press defense.
“We don’t even get the ball off the court,” Best said. “We start throwing the ball all out of bounds and throwing it behind our heads and just really bad. Really bad. So us as coaches have got to get back the drawing board and just start practicing better.”
Best said Heritage looked hungry for the win from the outset of the game.
“And this is a game I don’t have to give a ra-ra speech for Heritage-Glass,” he said. “If you have to do that, then you’re probably playing the wrong sport. We just got stagnant.”
Heritage’s offense didn’t perform much better. The Pioneers shot 34% from the field, made 1 of 15 3-point attempts and went more than six minutes without a field goal in the third quarter.
But the Pioneers showed resolve in the final minute inside McCue, which was filled to capacity and deafening in the last couple minutes of play.
“Just trying to let them understand that if we take care of the basketball, don’t foul and make the fundamental plays, we have the opportunity to be successful,” Heritage coach Les Camm said. “Ecstatic to get a win in this gym against a really, really good basketball team.”
Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527.