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Refreshed Malique Ewin, Berkmar exploit absence of leading Hillgrove scorer Jeremiah Wilkinson

On a night when Berkmar welcomed back its superstar Ole Miss commit from a two-game absence, Hillgrove played without its injured star.
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By David Friedlander | Photos and video by Jamie Spaar

LILBURN, Ga. — Having missed standout post Malique Ewin the past two games, Berkmar had little sympathy when its second-round Class 7A state tournament opponent, Hillgrove, was missing its best player.

Still, it took a little while for the No. 3 Patriots to fully take advantage of the return of their four-star senior's return and the absence of Hawks leading scorer Jeremiah Wilkinson.

Eventually, however, Berkmar found its rhythm and wore down shorthanded Hillgrove to pull away for a 71-53 home victory Friday night.

Ewin was a force in his first game back after sitting out a two-game suspension that resulted from two technical fouls in the Region 7-7A tournament semifinals. He finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals.

“Malique hasn't played in (almost) two weeks,” Berkmar coach Greg Phillips said. “So getting him out there and getting him some minutes just up and down (the court), that was really good. We'll definitely need him in the next round against the monster we've got in Grayson.”

That said, three-star guard Jermahri Hill was perhaps the biggest catalyst in helping the Patriots (24-4) into a state quarterfinal trip to Gwinnett County rival Grayson next week.

The 6-foot-4, 180-pound senior, who led four players in double figures with 20 points and added five steals and four assists, was especially key during a decisive 21-3 run late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.

Up until that time, Berkmar held a lead but had to work hard to keep Hillgrove (23-4) at arm's length despite the absence of sophomore guard Wilkinson, who averaged 16.6 points per game but was out with a wrist injury.

The Hawks overcame first-half deficits of eight and nine points and a seven-point hole at halftime to pull to within 38-35 with 4:48 left in the third quarter on a 3-pointer from Wilkinson's replacement in the starting lineup, Joseph Jordan, who finished with a game-high 18 points.

“This was the first game (Jordan) started,” Hillgrove coach Gregory Moultrie said. “So he had to step up, next man up, and he did a pretty good job. He did the best he could do, and I appreciate the effort he gave.

“We played solid for about 2 1/2, almost three complete quarters. Then fatigue set in, and (Berkmar was) a little more talented than we were, and they were able to pick up on our mistakes. They capitalized on every mistake we made.”

Berkmar started forcing Hillgrove into more of those mistakes shortly after Jordan's 3-pointer. The Patriots did so by making minor adjustments extending their defense, though Phillips said their heightened defensive intensity made the biggest difference.

“We started defending the way we were supposed to (in the second half),” Phillips said. “We just followed the scouting report and did what we were supposed to do better. (Hillgrove's) best player was out, and our guys saw that in warm-ups, and I think our whole demeanor changed. Honestly, that's on me. I need to keep us a little more focused, and I didn't. We kind of let our guard down those first two quarters, and it showed.”

That increased defensive intensity resulted in Berkmar running out in transition and finding its way to the foul line on four straight possessions after the lead was cut to three.

Brycen Blaine didn't complete a three-point play after missing following his reverse layup on a stick-back at the 4:23 mark, but Bo Hurns hit 1 of 2 for his only point of the night, followed by made free throws by Hill and two more by Blaine.

Blaine then came up with a defensive rebound and sent Hill on a fast break for a bucket and Ewin, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Ole Miss commit, followed his own miss for a layup to complete an 11-0 run that pushed the Patriots' lead to 49-35 with 1:12 left in the period.

After a steal and layup by Andre Kidd and an Evan Cole free throw in the final 50 seconds of the third quarter pulled Hillgrove to 49-38, Berkmar delivered the knockout blow to start the final quarter.

Hill finished a pair of rim-rocking dunks and Jameel Rideout got out in transition off turnovers for a layup and two trips to the line for 10 more consecutive points by the Patriots.

By the time Isaiah Pettigrew hit 1 of 2 free throws for Hillgrove to stop the run with 4:58 to play, the Patriots' lead was 59-39, and it reached 25 points before the Hawks reserves cut it to 18 by the final buzzer.

Blaine joined Hill and Ewin in double-figure scoring with 15 points, seven boards and four assists, while Rideout added 11 points and three steals.

Jordan was the only Hillgrove player in double figures, but Kyan Reddick added eight points off the bench and Kidd chipped in seven points and five rebounds.

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