HUNTINGDON, Pa.- The Randolph men's basketball team came into its game with Juniata College looking to end its five-game winless streak. Aided by a career high 32 points from Sammy Hooper (Richmond, Va./Midlothian), the WildCats did just that as they defeated the Eagles 71-55 on Thursday night at the Comfort Inn Holiday Tournament. With the victory, the 'Cats record now stands at 5-6. JC drops to 4-6 overall.
Hooper's 32 points tops his previous career best of 29 that was set last season against William Peace. He is the first WildCat to reach 30 points since Ryan Fields last did it in 2016 and the 32 points matches what Colton Hunt achieved in 2012.
The Eagles scored the game's first points 49 seconds in but Randolph ripped off 13 straight to jump ahead 12-3 with 14:07 left in the half.
The WildCat lead increased to 12 points, 17-5, after a jump shot and three-pointer from Hooper. JC cut its deficit to seven points but another Hooper three restored the Randolph advantage to double digits. Juniata came roaring back with a 9-2 run to get the score to 22-20 with just over eight minutes left. It was 24-21 at 7:23 until a 7-0 'Cat run got Randolph ahead again by 10.
Randolph's lead grew to 11 points, 34-23, with 3:43 remaining in the half. JC closed out with a 7-0 run as the WildCats went 0-4 from the field and the score stood at 34-30 at halftime.
Brian Smith's (Dumfries, Va./C.D. Hylton) three to begin the second half gave Randolph a 37-30 lead 40 seconds in. The Juniata deficit remained in the single digits for almost eight minutes of game time as it hung with the WildCats. After a three from Juniata's Noah Neville made it 46-41, the 'Cats would go on a 9-0 run to increase the lead to 55-41with 10:39 remaining.
Randolph had the game in hand as it would go on to take its biggest lead of the night, 21 points, with under seven minutes to play in the contest. The Eagles could get no closer than 16 points as the 'Cats cruised to the win.
"The energy and enthusiasm from the jump told me a lot about our guys tonight," said head coach Pete Hamilton after the game. Long road trip, playing the second game of a doubleheader and we created an atmosphere for ourselves that we could thrive in. We talked over the past three days that our style and our pace offensively and defensively would win us this game."
Hooper shot a season-best 60% (12-of-20) from the field and was 4-of-9 from beyond the three-point arc. He also pulled down seven rebounds and had two steals. "We see Sammy do things like he did tonight in practice every day," noted Hamilton. "The guy can score it and his teammates did a heck of a job of identifying he was in a rhythm and we kept running actions towards him."
Smith added 11 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Justin Dula (Taylorsville, N.C./Alexander Central) contributed 10 points and was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor to go along with seven rebounds.
On the evening, Randolph was 27-of-60 shooting (45%). From the charity stripe, the team was 10-of-13 (76.9%). The rebounding edge went to Randolph 38-30. The WildCats also had advantages in points in the paint (30-16) and second chance points (15-8).
Hamilton also praised some of his bench players. I'm also very proud of how some role guys stepped in and made a difference," he said. "Zach Hinton has been working his tail off and he helped on both ends tonight. Avery Payne never has a day that he isn't physical or energetic-he came in and fought for us when we needed a lift."
The WIldCats move on to tomorrow's championship game against Stockton University. The Ospreys held off Bethany College 69-65 in the day's other game. Tip off will be at 4:00 p.m.