GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — This time, Omaha Central was not to be denied in beating one of the nation’s top high school boys basketball teams.
The Eagles never trailed in the second half of Saturday’s 70-63 win over Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy. More than 5,500 in the sold-out Heartland Events Center arena watched the final game of the daylong Heartland Hoops Classic.
Akoy Agau had 20 points and nine rebounds for Central (19-4), which had lost twice by three points in the City of Palms Classic in Florida before Christmas.
Tra-Deon Hollins had 13 points and Kevin Scott 10.
Hollins said those Florida losses crossed his mind when Oak Hill cut Central’s lead to 66-63 with 17 seconds left.
“I was thinking, ‘Not again, we’re not losing by three,’ ” Hollins said. “We came together. (Coach Eric) Behrens said during our last timeout that we’re not losing. He coached us through it.”
Behrens admired his kids for battling to the win.
“We missed some free throws and we weren’t perfect,” he said, “but our competitive energy was high.”
Oak Hill (24-5) never led by more than five points and fell behind for good on back-to-back baskets by Hollins for a 31-30 Central lead with 1:08 left in the first half.
Leading 33-32 at halftime, Central held the Warriors scoreless for 6½ minutes while taking its first 10-point lead since 13-3 in the first quarter.
“We weren’t tough enough to get it done,” Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. “They’re a good team and we spotted them a lead early.
“We had a lot of breakdowns defensively, missed box-outs, didn’t get good rotation on defense. We just didn’t play very well.”
Oak Hill’s longest run of the second half was a seven-pointer that cut Central’s lead to 45-43 on a 3 by Ike Iroegbu with 6:49 left in the game.
Nick Billingsley scored on a pass from Deandre Hollins-Johnson and Scott found Agau at point-blank range for a basket that restored a six-point lead for the Eagles.
Tre’Shawn Thurman, who went scoreless in the first half and had only a free throw in the third period, followed a 3-pointer with a three-point play that kept the lead at six, with Agau making two free throws with 2:02 left.
Thurman’s basket, the last by the Eagles, with 1:38 left staked his team to a 59-51 lead. He finished with nine points, as did Nick Billingsley and Hollins-Johnson. The Eagles used only six players to eight for Oak Hill.
Central made only two of its next six free throws, but pairs of free throws from Hollins and Hollins-Johnson — he had rebounded a missed dunk by Agau — were good for a 65-59 lead with 33 seconds left.
After a putback with 17 seconds left by Oak Hill’s Troy Williams, whose 15 points tied Sindarius Thornwell for team honors, made it 66-63, Hollins-Johnson and Hollins each went 2-for-2 at the line to seal the win.
“We had two tough losses in Florida, but this was a game we were looking forward to,” Agau said. “We had some things we had to mix, but obviously we did that and came out with a win tonight.”
Central had gotten the crowd into the game by taking a 13-3 lead midway through the opening period. Oak Hill then scored the next 11 points.
The Warriors also started fast in the second quarter, running off the first eight points for a 22-17 lead. R.J. Curington made a 3, Iroegbu converted a 3-point play and Williams scored.
Central hit the boards hard for the next several minutes, getting putbacks by Billingsley and Agau and later two free throws from Agau after he corralled an offensive rebound.
“They didn’t present a matchup problem inside for us,” Behrens said. “We actually thought Akoy was better inside.
“Coming in, when we were talking as coaches, to beat these guys we needed Akoy to have 20 points and 12 rebounds. That was the one matchup that we thought we had an advantage and he did exactly what we needed him to.”
Oak Hill Academy (24-5).........................14 18 4 27—63
Omaha Central (19-4).......................17 16 10 27—70
OHA: Ike Iroegbu 14, Sindarius Thornwell 15, Nate Britt 4, Troy Williams 15, Lennard Freeman 2, R.J. Curington 5, Rokas Gustys 8.
OC: Akoy Agau 20, Kevin Scott 10, Tra-Deon Hollins 13, Nick Billingsley 9, Tre'Shawn Thurman 9, Deandre Hollins-Johnson 9.
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