Hampton's game against New Castle Tuesday night had about as much buildup as any WPIAL regular-season game in recent memory.
But when the game ended and the hype dissipated, Hampton was trying to forget quickly about what took place.
In the spotlight and in front of a capacity crowd, New Castle, ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL, used an exceptional fourth quarter to turn out the lights on second-ranked Hampton, handing the host Talbots a 58-42 defeat in a clash of Class AAAA Section 3teams that were unbeaten when the night began.
New Castle 58, Hampton 42
New Castle takes on Hampton in high school basketball action. (Video by Justin K. Aller; 1/14/2014)
Hampton played without standout senior Ryan Luther, a 6-foot-8 guard-forward and Pitt recruit who missed his third game in a row after injuring an ankle in practice last Tuesday.
Minus Luther, the Talbots (13-1, 6-1) were able to escape with wins against North Allegheny (in overtime) and Seneca Valley, but against New Castle (12-0, 7-0) his absence was too much to overcome.
Both teams were held to season-low point totals, but the Red Hurricanes scored when they needed it.
Clinging to a two-point lead after three quarters, New Castle turned its defensive intensity up a notch and blitzed Hampton with a 14-0 run to begin the fourth. All of a sudden, New Castle had a 53-37 lead.
Hampton didn't score its first points of the quarter until 2:13 remained. New Castle outscored the Talbots, 19-5, in the final quarter.
"That's always the key to our game," said New Castle's Malik Hooker, who scored a game-high 17 points. "We just like getting stop after stop. Eventually, those stops are going to turn into points."
Hooker and Anthony Richards combined to score 12 of the 14 points in the big and decisive run.
"The fourth quarter we started to give up some easy baskets," Hampton coach Joe Lafko said.
"We didn't rotate in transition a few times. New Castle attacked and made us pay."
Jake McPhatter scored 14 points for New Castle and Richards added 10.
New Castle's victory extended its regular-season win streak to 58 games. The Red Hurricanes won WPIAL titles the past two seasons, defeating Hampton both times.
Hampton fought valiantly without Luther, who averages 23 points per game. Hampton led by five after the first quarter, and Hooker said he and his team were outplayed in the first half.
Luther's twin, Collin, led Hampton with 14 points, including seven in a row late in the third quarter to bring the Talbots within two.
Still, it looked as if Hampton was one horse short. And that horse -- Ryan Luther -- is a special one.
"I don't think any team changes more," New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said of Ryan Luther's absence.
Blundo later added: "Obviously, it's a lot different without Ryan. I credit Hampton because they adjusted well, did little things different because of their personnel and played a tough, hard-nosed basketball game."
The win continued New Castle's recent dominance of Hampton.
The Talbots have a 50-12 record over the past three seasons, but half those losses have come against New Castle.
"The bottom line is we were able to win even though we didn't play great," Blundo said. "But give credit to Hampton for playing a tough game."