VALLEY PARK • Antoine Williams didn't want to laugh. A senior point guard for the Hancock boys basketball team, Williams was a cauldron of emotions that ran the spectrum from intense sadness to joy. Moments after his playing career ended, he let out a laugh.
“We tried to stop Torrence,” Williams said. “But it didn't look like we could do it.”
Behind a 44-point performance by junior guard Torrence Watson, Whitfield rolled to a 76-47 win over Hancock to win the Class 3 District 4 Tournament championship Saturday at Valley Park.
Whitfield (19-9) has won four consecutive games and claimed back-to-back district championships. A state semifinalist last season, Whitfield takes on Park Hills Central in a sectional game at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Jefferson College.
Watson is among the most talented juniors in the area and gave Hancock (22-5) the full array of his abilities. He knocked down jump shots, attacked the rim, crashed the glass and used his length to be a defensive nightmare.
The 6-foot-5 Watson scored 33 points in the first half. He finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. The Tigers were at his mercy.
“We tried to double him and make him as uncomfortable as possible, but the kid can flat out play. We did everything we could,” Hancock coach Travis Nissenbaum said. “He's definitely the best guy we've seen.”
If it wasn't Watson, it was Whitfield junior guard Cyrus Alexander making Hancock miserable. The 6-foot-5 Alexander scored 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds and had two steals. He, like Watson, has been asked to take on more leadership after graduation took a large chunk of Whitfield's state semifinalist experience. There were some hiccups along the way, but it would appear the Warriors are hitting their stride.
“We struggled a bit in the first half of the season but came back strong,” Alexander said. “It's good to come back to where we were last year.”
Alexander scored the first basket of the game off the jump ball to give Whitfield a lead six seconds into the game. The Warriors never trailed and took a 29-10 lead through one quarter. By pouncing on the inexperienced Tigers, Whitfield never let Hancock get within striking distance. Whitfield led 52-24 at halftime.
“That's how it's been for our last two games,” Watson said. “We jumped out in rhythm and played pretty good.”
Whitfield's defensive pressure was too much for Hancock to consistently handle. The Tigers broke it on occasion and were rewarded with quality scoring chances. But all too often the ball was quickly going the other way as the Warriors scored in transition.
“I think our kids really responded really well today and set the tempo early,” Whitfield coach Mike Potsou said. “We came out of the gates with some intense defensive pressure. By halftime we were in a great position.”
Hancock was led by freshman forward Sam Richardson Jr., who had 15 points and six rebounds. Williams had 10 points. Junior guard Jeremiah Turner had 10 points.
Hancock and Williams had reason to be sad but also reason to be happy. When Williams was a freshman, the program won four games. It was 11 years since Hancock advanced to a district title game. Though he had the runner-up trophy under his arm, Williams could appreciate how far he and his team have come in his time.
“This is was one of our goals,” Williams said. “We wanted the championship, but I'll guess this will do.”
Nissenbaum wanted his Tigers to know that one game did not define their season. Hancock accomplished things this winter it hadn't done for a decade. There was so much to be happy about, including proving those who didn't believe in them wrong — night after night.
“These kids are a special group. They came in and changed the culture and community of Hancock basketball,” Nissenbaum said. “This season we had naysayers all along the way. I'm beyond proud of these kids.”