Hamilton County’s Jhebari Martin shoots over a Jefferson County defender.

JASPER — With the holiday break at hand, Hamilton County is within striking distance of the district lead in a season coach Eugene Jones rates as average.

“I like that we are playing unselfish,” Jones said. “In 1A we are third in rebounds, ninth in scoring and ninth in steals.

“It’s the little things that we aren’t doing consistently that is preventing us from reaching out potential.”

The Trojans lost 66-52 to Jefferson County last week and dropped to 3-2 in district play, while the Tigers are 4-0 and Madison County is 3-0.

Hamilton returns to district action on Jan. 7 at Jefferson County; starting the new year with three straight district games.

The Trojans play at Lanier County in Lakeland, Georgia, over the break, and Jones wants to work on “tuning up our offense and working on time management, communication and rebounding.

“I want to see steady improvement each week and to win our district games. We are almost at the halfway point of the season. January is when you get into the heart of your schedule so if you don’t have things rolling by then, it’s close to impossible to expect success in the playoffs.”

Denandre Johnson scored 24 points against Jefferson County while Jhebari Martin added 17 points.

The Tigers broke free in the second quarter, outscoring Hamilton 19-6, but Martin kept the game tight in the first with six points.

He leads HCHS in scoring with 142 points and in rebounds with 82.

“Jhebari has stepped it up big time, and he is starting to embrace that as one of the better players on the team that he has to lead by example,” Jones said. “I love how he demands communication on defense and yet still knows how to have fun.

“I’d say I’m more happy with his defense than him scoring points. Because everyone has off nights shooting the ball, he helps us in other ways if his shot isn’t falling. I’m glad he isn’t a one-dimensional player.”

The Tigers were fast and active and relentless around the basket all night and used six turnovers to widen their lead from 17-15 to 30-18 with a minute left in the first half.

“The first quarter we came out a little slow, we didn’t play as we should; at a high level,” Johnson said. “They have a couple kids on their team that are athletic, and we do too, but they outplayed us.”

Johnson is the Trojans’ second-leading scorer with 115 points and also is second in rebounds with 62. Darius Jones leads the way with 24 steals, and Lataveon Green is tops with 33 assists.

The Trojans won the third quarter 20-16 on seven points from Martin and six from Johnson, which narrowed the lead to 10 after three.

“They fought back hard as a team and never quit,” Eugene Jones said. “I don’t think they should have been in that hole to begin with. We got a little too crazy with the threes, and we probably shot around 15%. We should have attacked the basket more, and taken better care of the ball.”

Jefferson County returned to form in the fourth with baskets by E’lisha Clark, who led all scorers with 26 points, and extended its lead to 16 with about five minutes to play.

Then Johnson put up eight straight points and the difference was 58-50 with 2:30 to go, but the Tigers held on.

“It was good, but I’d be feeling a lot better if we won,” Johnson said of his offensive output. “I’m a good player under the basket and they were trying to give me fast breaks to take it.”

Eugene Jones added: “They were pressing us and he was wide open a lot. And he capitalized on that and had a pretty decent game. He’s a captain for a reason, and I expect more performances like that from him.”

Jeff Shourds is a sports writer for the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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