MIDDLE VILLAGE, N.Y. — The favorites are 47-0, with one more to go.
The nation’s top-ranked and top-seeded team, Oak Hill Academy, rolled past Huntington Prep, 61-51, following three tight periods pushed by an inspired two-way performance by center Daniel Giddens and point guard Terrence Phillips’ maestro turn running the point.
Giddens, an Ohio State signee who too often fades in and out of games, was doing his job simply by neutralizing Huntington Prep’s star center, Thomas Bryant, but he provided far more than that. By game’s end, he had 13 points and nine rebounds, but his six in the first half were essential as Oak Hill worked through some early struggles.
“The game plan was to try and keep Thomas off the boards and limit his touches on the post,” Giddens said. “I think our whole front lineup did a good job of that.”
The influx from Giddens helped offset another slightly off night from superstar guard Dwayne Bacon. The Florida State signee still finished with a team-high 17, but he was visibly frustrated at multiple moments in the game’s latter stages, even earning a rare technical foul at one point.
With Bryant kept uncharacteristically quiet — 12 points and six rebounds — junior Miles Bridges broke out against single coverage in Oak Hill’s matchup defense. He dunked, he drove, he hit a three. Bridges kept Huntington in pole position until the final moments of a tight opening period that ended with Oak Hill holding a 13-10 edge, and in the second period, which ended in an important four-point swing that resulted in a 26-24 Warriors edge.
It was almost as tight heading into the final frame, with Oak Hill holding a three-point edge, when the Warriors again used an aggressive full and half-court trap to fuel a burst and break away from the Irish. The Warriors forced a majority of Huntington’s 17 turnovers in this run, and their extra 7 points they generated as a result were critical in the victory.
“They did a great job trapping the ball,” Huntington Prep coach Arkell Bruce said. “Our effort was not as good as it needed to be. Guys didn’t advance the ball as quickly as we needed them to. We settled for way too many jump shots, but I thought everything was impatient. We play inside-out like TB says, they missed him a few times when he was sealing.”
As Oak Hill celebrated wildly in the closing moments with the game out of reach, it was hard not to feel that the Warriors were still playing short of their best. That may not be enough Saturday against the two-time defending DICKS Nationals champions, Montverde Academy, a fact which Oak Hill coach Steve Smith acknowledged.
“I hope the fourth time is a charm,” Smith said. “I’m really proud of our guys effort tonight. I don’t think we’ve played our best, but maybe it will happen tomorrow. It’s the same matchup as last year and we’re excited to play again tomorrow.
“It’s a 32 minute game and the whole season comes down to one game. We’re 47-0 and I couldn’t be more proud, but those 47 don’t matter. Tomorrow is what happens. The guys don’t feel any pressure and I don’t feel any pressure. I’d like to win because it’s the biggest tournament you can win. And it’s for a national title because we’re No. 1 and No. 2. We’re going to get them ready.”