Led by floor general Marquez Williams, the Howard Hustlin' Tigers came away Thursday night with a nondistrict road victory that could give them a big push into the tough District 6-AA tournament next week.
Taking advantage of his teammates' screens and dishing to the open man when his team needed crucial buckets, Williams led a 57-54 defeat of Class AAA eighth-ranked East Hamilton to reach a significant plateau.
Williams scored nine of his 16 points in the second quarter and dished six assists to help Howard land its first 20-win season since winning 28 games and making the Class AA state semifinals in 2013.
"I try to push our guys to the max," Williams said. "I really have wanted to help turn the Howard program around. This team means the world to me, and we want to go deep in the postseason."
First-year head coach James Talley gives a lot of credit for the 20-6 season so far to his senior who has built to his skill set and others'.
"Really and truly, I think Marquez could score whenever he wants," Talley said. "He scored at will a lot his first three years, but now he's spread the ball and gotten everyone involved. He has driven this team and is a talent you only get once in a while."
The Hustlin' Tigers survived a ferocious comeback attempt led by Cameron Montgomery, who scored 10 of his 21 points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter.
East Hamilton led 54-53 with 1:22 left to play and had possession of the ball after Jamaal Williams' 12th rebound of the night.
However, three costly turnovers in the final minute would prove to be too much to overcome.
Howard's Dewayne Lawry jumped high in the air to steal the first, which he pushed ahead to Kerrick Thomas for the go-ahead score. Lawry nailed two big free throws under pressure with 14 seconds left to make it a three-point game, where it would finish.
Demetrius Bowens flashed his NBA range for the Hustlin' Tigers with three long-range makes to finish with a team-high 17 points. He and Montgomery, who led all with 21 points (four 3s), went back and forth several times.
"Coach Frank Jones has a very athletic and strong team. It was fun to coach against him because he was my coach my final two years at Howard," Talley said. "Tonight our boys wanted to prove something, though. We lost three straight games the other week, and we needed a jolt to send us into the postseason."
With a loaded 6-AA tournament posing five legitimate contenders, in Talley's assessment, his team hopes the win over East Hamilton can provide a spark in the event at Red Bank.
East Hamilton (22-6) will finish its regular season with a tough road test against Oak Ridge tonight. The Hurricanes were the District 5-AAA regular-season champions.