Rutherford senior Lavar Hills didn’t start Friday night’s game against Bay High, but he certainly knew how to make an entrance.
He dunked the ball with 2:05 left in the first half to put an exclamation point on his 10-point performance in that quarter alone.
“I mean he’s a problem for everybody pretty much,” Bay High coach Rusty Cook said. “It’s hard to match his size and intensity.”
Hills’ showing was so impressive that Rutherford coach Rhondie Ross inserted him into the starting lineup for the second half of the Rams’ 61-55 victory over Bay High (10-4).
“He’s kind of the heart and soul of our team,” Ross said. “He sparked us. Whenever we need a spark he’s kind of the guy that does it.”
Every time Hills touched the ball he seemed to carve a path straight to the basket. Though he finished with only 12 points in the Rutherford (11-4) victory after his night ended early. He left the game after sustaining an ankle injury with 6:48 left in the third quarter.
At the same moment Hills went down, Bay High junior Rustin Cook drained a three to cut the Rams’ lead to six.
With Rutherford’s force of nature sidelined, it seemed like a Bay High run was imminent. The Tornadoes' surge never came in part due to the play of Rutherford senior Xzavier World.
“He really hit some timely shots tonight,” Ross said of World.
Ten of his game-high 17 points came in the second half after Hills left as World showed he could hit a shot from pretty much anywhere.
At times in the second half, the game actually seemed to devolve into a back and forth between World and Rustin Cook who scored 12 points of his own after the break.
“He’s kind of a glue guy who does a little bit of everything,” the Bay High coach said of his son. “A lot of nights he doesn’t lead us, but he’s probably second in everything.”
That certainly wasn’t the case on Friday. Rustin Cook did lead the team with 15 points. He also gave every fan in the gym reason to pause when he forced a turnover with 46 seconds left.
The junior took it straight to the basket to cut Rutherford’s lead to five points, but that was as close as it got.
For huge stretches of the game, Rutherford seemed poised to put their rivals away for good, but the Rams were never able to properly capitalize on Bay High’s frequent turnovers.
Rutherford’s struggles at the free-throw line, where the team knocked down 10 of 23 shots, were one of the reasons the Tornadoes hung around. For comparison Bay High made 12 of their 19 attempts from the line.
Ross said he was frustrated that his team wasn’t able to put the game away earlier, but he wasn’t surprised.
“Coach Cook is doing a great job,” Ross said. “His kids are growing up right in front of us. You know what I mean because he’s got a pretty good group. In a rivalry game, you expect it to be tough.”