MIDDLE VILLAGE N.Y. – At times, the shots weren’t falling as they normally do for No. 4 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) – one of the highest scoring teams in the nation. But two key runs helped propel Findlay to a 77-65 victory over No. 5 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) in the second quarterfinal Thursday at the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals.
Findlay opened the contest with a nine straight points – highlighted by a PJ Washington dunk. The lead was short lived, as Oak Hill diligently chipped away at the margin and took a 32-31 lead into the locker room.
But Findlay turned it on offensively in the second half, and took control with a 19-6 spurt through the late third and early fourth quarter. Donnie Tillman punctuated the run with a tough layup in the low blocks to put Findlay up 61-48.
It was a fitting basket, considering Findlay’s dominance in the paint – where they outscored Oak Hill 46-22. Lamine Diane and Reggie Chaney each scored 21 and did most of their damage down low – with Diane going 10-for-13 from the floor, and Chaney going 9-for-12.
“It just felt like we were bigger than them,” Findlay head coach Paul Washington said. “It felt like we outrebounded them. I looked at the stats, and we didn’t. But we got more points where we wanted, inside.”
Coach Washington said that the key to victory was coming out for the second half with a renewed focus on defense. And it worked, as Oak Hill went 4-for-14 from the floor during the crucial third quarter.
“We’re a defensive, transition team,” Washington said. “Once we started doing that, we just let the chips fall where they may.”
It was the second victory of the year for Findlay over Oak Hill. Findlay won the first meeting between the clubs 78-62 at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii in December.
PJ Washington – who led the way for Findlay with 22 points – said his team was actually better in the rematch.
“This game we played more as a team,” PJ Washington said. “In December, we a had a lot of shots going…Now, we’re better coached. We know everything. We run our sets. And we just got everything easy.”
Washington played a superb game for Findlay despite a quick turnaround after having played in the McDonald’s All America Game in Chicago on Wednesday.
“I only got an hour of sleep last night,” Washington said. “So I had to drink a lot of water. And then just get prepared by listening to music on the plane.”
For Oak Hill, it just came down to not being able to put the ball in the basket. According to Oak Hill coach Steve Smith, it wasn’t necessarily a result of anything Findlay did on the defensive end. It was just a poor shooting game for his team.
“We had open shots,” Smith said. “A few of them were contested. But we had open shots. We just didn’t make them.”
Smith noted that spring break may have had an impact on his team, as Oak Hill closes down and the team’s practice schedule was interrupted.
“We looked rusty,” Smith said. “We looked like we hadn’t practiced in a while.”
Oak Hill’s Billy Preston was superb in defeat scoring 21 and adding nine rebounds. Like PJ Washington, Preston took an early Thursday flight from Chicago to New York after playing in the McDonald’s game. But coach Smith didn’t think the quick turnaround impacted his Kansas-bound star.
“I thought he played the best of anybody on our team today,” Smith said.