Kapaun Mount Carmel senior Braden Hullings only played in one summer basketball tournament because he was hampered by back issues.
“I had stress (reactions). It’s not like stress fractures,” he said. “It’s not as bad as that, but it’s leading up to that. But I rehabbed a lot and was able to get over that.”
While Kapaun coach John Cherne thinks Hullings is at about 80 percent physically, Hullings showed no side effects as he scored a game-high 28 points in Kapaun’s 72-66 win over visiting East on Friday.
“Braden has not scratched into what he can be,” said Cherne, whose team is the Class 5A defending champion. “He is explosive, and he finished a lot of shots tonight. What I liked is he competed tonight. That’s something a year ago, he was inconsistent. Sometimes he’d compete, and other nights he didn’t.”
Hullings hit 7 of 12 field goals, including 2 of 4 from three-point range, and hit 12 of 16 free throws. He was 6 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final period. He also had three rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot.
“I definitely wanted to come in and be the leader,” Hulling said. “Calm everyone down, really. Make sure everyone is flowing together, step up and play well for my team.”
But he had two quick fouls and was sitting on the bench by the midpoint of the first quarter.
East hit 8 of 11 shots, getting nine first-quarter points from JJ Normore, for the 20-16 lead.
“We scored 20 in the first quarter when they had come out in the zone, and then they switched to man-to-man, and I thought we should excel at that,” East first-year coach Joe Jackson said. “But (Kapaun) played solid defense. They really out-executed us on defense.”
Hullings made an immediate impact when he returned as he scored 14 second-quarter points, including a jumper with six seconds to go in the half for the 35-32 lead.
Normore had 17 points and had a blocked shot, while his teammates Samajae Jones, De’Shawn Terrell and Nick Griffin combined for seven steals. Jones, Terrell and Traevon McGairty each had 11 points.
With Kapaun (1-0) leading 67-61 after Timmy Hamilton’s basket inside, Jones answered for East (0-1) with a three-pointer with 49 seconds to go and trailing by three.
On a loose ball play on Kapaun’s next possession, Hullings dove on the floor, beating Normore to the ball, and, while on his back, found teammate David Ewers with the pass.
East trailed 68-64 when Terrell, who had 11 points — including nine in the final period — drove inside. But Hullings hit two free throws and then an East pass on its possession went out of bounds.
“We had too many mental breakdowns late in the game,” Jackson said. “Mental toughness things; we had breakdowns that led to turnovers.”
Kapaun made 27 of 42 free throws, including 13 of 18 in the final period. East was 9 of 19 for the game.
Jeremy Lickteig had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Kapaun.