The gymnasium at National Christian Academy is surely one of the most unique in the area, a basketball floor that sits in an ampitheater-like space. The court is flanked by a stage designed for church services, and each corner has its own function. There’s a concession stand in one corner, a training table in the other, bleachers in another.
In the middle Tuesday night was Byron Hawkins, the lightning bolt of a point guard from Clinton Christian, who undoubtedly stood out on the unconventional purple floor of the gym. He scored 19 points, while teammate Allante Holston added 14 and a crucial steal with 20 seconds left to lift No. 11 Clinton Christian to a 60-56 win over No. 13 National Christian in Capital Beltway league action in Oxon Hill.
“I’ve never played on a court like this before,” Holston said. “I’m happy we adapted to it.”
That adaption was led by the 6-foot-1 Hawkins, and it started with him out-running most of his teammates when his team ran sprints before tip-off.
The Eagles (14-4, 3-1 in Capital Beltway) had to overcome poor second-half shooting and stingy defense by National Christian (11-7, 1-2), which lost its third straight game. Hawkins hit a deep three-pointer just before halftime to give Clinton Christian a 33-27 lead at the break, then opened the third quarter with another three-pointer to extend the lead to nine.
But Clinton Christian scored just one more field goal in the third quarter (another of Hawkins’s four three-pointers), and National Christian bullied its way to a 42-40 lead behind a big third-quarter performance from 6-foot-5 swingman Christian Matthews (14 points). That’s when Hawkins sensed that he needed to freelance more as a scorer late in the game, even though his primary role is to facilitate as a point guard.
“You have to pick and choose when you do it,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes if your team is struggling, I might have to take over a little bit, or take a few more shots, or just be aggressive.”
Hawkins tied the game at 49 with a three-pointer with three minutes left — “I knew that was big for my team,” he said — and the Eagles built a 56-54 lead off a pair of clutch field goals by Leroy Butts and Ahsante Shivers with less than two minutes to play. That was when Holston, who had watched National Christian run a double-pick at the top of the key all night, saw it again. He positioned himself perfectly above the arc. He waited for the kick-out from the key, then picked off the pass to a potential National Christian three-point shooter, and his subsequent two free throws sealed the win.
Hawkins had noticed that National Christian was trying for the three-pointer, too. He advised his teammates before the play, and it might have been his best contribution of the night.
“I think he’s underrated, actually. I think he’s a great leader, a great point guard,” Holston said of Hawkins. “Byron always carries us.”