Omaha Central gave the state a signature win for the ages.
What else compares to the Eagles beating Oak Hill Academy, maybe the most recognizable name in high school basketball?
This was beating last year’s national champion, an “All-Star” team in which four Warriors are in the top 150 of one recruiting service and everyone in its eight-man rotation will go onto Division I.
Yet Central, on a Saturday night in a central Nebraska arena packed to the upper concourse, outplayed Oak Hill for a 70-63 win at the Heartland Hoops Classic in Grand Island.
“Their guys are going to North Carolina and Indiana and Washington State and DePaul, guys at that level,” Eagles coach Eric Behrens said Saturday night. “The only guy we have at that level is Akoy (Agau). We only have one guy to their five or six at that level.
“But I think we have some other guys who can play at that level and I thought they showed it tonight.”
Compared to Long Beach (Calif.) Poly and Chicago’s Whitney Young, the teams that handed Central three-point losses at the City of Palms Classic in Florida two months ago, Oak Hill had more talent across the board. But it had way less incentive since its visit to Nebraska wasn’t in a tournament setting. It was just another weekend on the road, away from its school nestled in southern Virginia.
Not so for the Eagles, who whooped it up afterward in their locker room.
“It was different than a regular-season win,” senior Tra-Deon Hollins said. “It was like we won state.”
Here’s the paradox. This was the signature win of all time for the state, but it won’t be for Central unless the Eagles use it, as Behrens hopes, as a springboard for the rest of the season. A four-year sweep of Class A state titles, the reason Agau said he stayed at Central for his senior season, looks much more possible for his team after Saturday night.
For those who weren’t among the 5,500 in Grand Island, here’s how the game unfolded. What you’ll see is that Oak Hill never gained full control.
>> First quarter: Central scores the first six points, with Agau starting the night with a slam, and leads 13-3 before the midway point. Oak Hill fires off the next 11 points, getting its fullcourt pressure going and causing Behrens to take his second timeout of the quarter after Sindarius Thornwell gets a steal and dunk. Central also loses Tre’Shawn Thurman for a while after he twists an ankle.
Baskets by Nick Billingsley and Hollins get the Eagles to the second quarter with a 17-14 lead.
Central’s points in the quarter: Hollins 6, Agau 4, Deandre Hollins-Johnson 3, Billingsley 2, KJ Scott 2.
>> Second quarter: The first five minutes belong to the Warriors, who score the first eight points and take leads of 22-17 and 28-23. Central’s counter-punch is to score on five consecutive possessions, fueled by Scott with three baskets. Agau makes two free throws early in the 10-2 run and Hollins picks up a loose ball and scores for a 33-30 lead.
Officials rule that 6-foot-8 junior Rokas Gustys’ putback for Oak Hill beats the buzzer. Central leads 33-32.
Points: Agau 6, Scott 6, Billingsley 2, Hollins 2.
>> Third quarter: Eight shining minutes for the Eagles’ defense, which harasses Oak Hill into seven turnovers and 2-of-12 shooting. Central has five blocks overall in the period, three by Agau. Eagles lead 43-36.
Points: Agau 6, Billingsley 3, Thurman 1.
>> Fourth quarter: Until now, Thurman has been a non-factor but he produces eight points and two rebounds in holding off a desperate opponent. Oak Hill had only two possessions with which it could have tied the game.
Thurman’s 3, the first for Central since the first quarter, and his three-point play lift the Eagles’ 49-47 lead to 55-49 with 3:39 left. His basket with 1:38 left, for a 59-51 lead, is the last for Central before Hollins and Hollins-Johnson ended up at the line making 11 of 16 free throws.
South Carolina recruit Thornwell does his best to rally the Warriors, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the period. Indiana recruit Troy Williams has a putback with 17 seconds left that brings Oak Hill back to 66-63, but Hollins-Johnson makes two free throws and Hollins rebounds a Williams miss and cashes in the final two foul shots.
Points: Thurman 8, Hollins-Johnson 6, Hollins 5, Agau 4, Scott 2, Billingsley 2.
The game reverberated across the nation.
Wrote Jason Hickman, national basketball editor for MaxPreps.com:
“Normally a team from Nebraska beating storied Oak Hill Academy would be considered an epic upset in the world of high school basketball. But Omaha Central emerging with a 70-63 win ... wasn’t all that shocking.
“That speaks volumes about the incredible success the Eagles have experienced in recent years under Behrens.”
In the Nebraska Top 10, Central (19-4) returns to No. 1 after a two-week absence. Millard West made the move easier by knocking off previous No. 1 Omaha South.
The 19-3 record for South reflects the win against Papillion-La Vista it was ordered to forfeit because two players took part in a non-school game before the Jan. 22 contest with the Monarchs.
Papillion-La Vista remains third, Millard West fourth despite its win over the Packers and Omaha Benson fifth. Millard West’s big win offset its 66-44 loss the previous night to Omaha Westside (10-10).
Millard North, Westside, Omaha North, Lincoln Southwest and Omaha Burke are this week’s second five.
Class B: Ralston (15-4), which avenged its only instate loss by returning to South Sioux City and edging the Cardinals 44-41, is atop the ratings for the first time since the 2009-10 preseason.
Top games this week:
Class A—Tuesday: Omaha Creighton Prep at Omaha Benson, Omaha Burke at Fremont. Friday: Omaha Westside at Omaha South, Millard West at Millard North, Lincoln North Star at Fremont. Saturday: Millard West at Prep, Millard North at Westside, Omaha South at Omaha North, North Platte at Lincoln Southwest.
Class B—Tuesday: Omaha Skutt at Gretna. Friday: Norris at Gretna, Elkhorn South at Norfolk, McCook at Grand Island Northwest, Gering at Scottsbluff, Beatrice at York. Saturday: Waverly at Beatrice, Norris at Ralston.
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