What has become an annual game for Christian Heritage School’s boys basketball team in recent years has also become an annual classic.
Two years ago, it was a 53-point game by Lion standout Jax Abernathy. Last year, an Abernathy game-winning buzzer-beater.
This season’s December showdown with Chattanooga’s Hamilton Heights Christian Academy lived up to the billing again, with Abernathy dropping 40 points as the Lions (6-1) held off a taller, talented Hamilton Heights (8-2) team 72-70 in overtime.
Hamilton Heights had multiple players at 6-foot-8 or taller and multiple players with NCAA Division I offers, but the Lions, whose tallest player is 6-foot-4, played tough defense down low and found a way to coax in shots around shot blockers.
Christian Heritage trailed 51-44 entering the fourth quarter, but some late heroics by Abernathy — and then a game-tying triple by Carter Triplett — sent the game into overtime.
The Lions cut the lead down to two midway through the fourth, but a 3-pointer from Hamilton Heights pushed it back to five.
Despite a big size advantage, it was guard play and outside shooting that led the Hawk offense. The visitors hit eight 3-pointers, five from the hands of Kamai Samuels.
Abernathy, who had a few shots blocked early by a trio of rim protectors for Hamilton Heights, let his jump shot carry the Lions back into the game late. A stepback jumper briefly cut the score to 60-69, but the Hawks went back up 62-59 with two minutes left in regulation. Triplett, who hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with 11, hit his biggest of the night with a minute left to tie the game at 62. Each team got a shot at a potential game-winner in regulation, but four additional minutes were needed to decide the winner.
Abernathy hit a contested 3-pointer and made a move for another mid-range jump shot to put the Lions up early. A Cash Hare layup for Christian Heritage followed by a Samuels basket made it 69-68 with 1:10 left in the extra frame.
Samuels hit another to bring his total to 33 on the night, but not before Abernathy trickled in a few late free throws to ice the game.
The game was evenly-played throughout, and the Hamilton Heights advantage to enter the fourth quarter was the most separation either team got. Christian Heritage led 21-19 after the first, and an Abernathy shot that beat the halftime buzzer made the score 34-34 at the break.
Christian Heritage’s Dontae Crowder, who scored nine first-quarter points to get the Lions off to a fast start, finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds, battling 6-foot-9 Vito Perkovic and 6-foot-10 Viktor Mikic on the boards. So did Hare, who scored seven key points.
Christian Heritage hosts Bradley Central next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Prior to the boys game, the Hamilton Heights girls squad (6-4) pulled away from Christian Heritage (7-4) for a 61-31 win.
Christian Heritage trailed 37-15 at halftime, and any hopes of a comeback were dashed early in the third as the visitors opened the quarter with a 9-1 run.
Hamilton Heights led 56-21 after three quarters and the fourth quarter was shortened to six minutes.
Christian Heritage lost its second straight after ripping off a seven-game win streak.
The Lady Lions will try to get back in the win column Tuesday against North Cobb Christian in a tournament at Fannin County High School.