When Rondale Watson hit a 3-pointer over top of two Oak Hill Academy defenders midway through the second quarter Tuesday night, his Greenbrier East team drew within single digits of the nation’s No. 3 squad — down just 25-17 — and a capacity crowd was behind the home team.
Apparently that’s all the Warriors (22-1) needed to flip the switch.
The eight-time national champions outscored East 18-0 over the final 4 minutes of the first half to take a 42-17 lead into the locker room, and they cruised from there, winning 73-43 for their 20th straight victory of the season and snapping the Spartans’ five-game winning streak in the process.
“We would have liked to have been a whole lot more competitive,” admitted Greenbrier East head coach Jim Justice. “But they’re just big, they move really well and they made it really, really tough on us. It’s tough when you have five out there that are that talented.”
The Warriors gave the fans exactly what they wanted to see with an up-tempo, high-flying brand of basketball that drew oohs and aahs from the opening tip until the final whistle. Five alley-oops ended in rim-shattering dunks that provided plenty of entertainment value, regardless of the final score.
The star of the show was Terrence Phillips, the Oak Hill point guard, who’s a West Virginia University target on the recruiting trail. The 5-foot-11 junior, who’s also drawing interest from Arizona State, Auburn, LSU and Virginia Tech, among others, ran the team to perfection and did everything head coach Steve Smith wanted from the quarterback of his attack. Phillips finished the game with 14 points and nine assists, while blocking two shots and recording three steals. He also grabbed four rebounds to fill up the stat line.
B.J. Stith came off the bench for 19 points and five boards, and North Carolina State commitments Cody and Caleb Martin combined for 24 points and 15 boards to erase any thoughts of a Spartan upset.
East (8-3) missed some early opportunities to make a game out of it, clanging open look after open look off the rim as the intimidation of playing such a talented team took over. The Spartans shot just 17 percent from the field in the opening half, including a 1-for-14 mark from 3-point range. Tyler Canterbury, who had hit 11 3s in two games coming into Tuesday’s contest, was 0-for-9 from long range.
“We had some good looks,” said Justice. “I told them at the end of the first quarter that if one of those goes we would have a little bit better feeling about the way we were playing.”
The Spartans’ two Division I signees, though, held their own against a team full of players at that same level. With Wake Forest assistant coach Randolph Childress watching from the stands, Demon Deacon signee Watson scored a game-high 20 points to go along with three rebounds and four assists.
“I think tonight was more of a mental game for us, because we just wanted to not give up and fight our way through,” said Watson, the area’s leading scorer. “We’re not going to play a team with that talent level the rest of the way. We just wanted to come out and play hard.
“It was a good experience. The pressure was good, and it will get us ready for the rest of the year. It was a big atmosphere.”
Watson said he also learned something about his future in basketball.
“Guys are going to be bigger, stronger and quicker,” he said. “I just have to work hard, let the game come to me and take good shots.”
St. Joseph’s signee Obi Romeo — battling with 6-9 forward Rokas Gustys, another Division I prospect, for most of the night — finished with 10 points and 16 boards for East, which lost the rebounding battle 49-27.
“Obi did a great job,” said Justice. “I was really proud of him.”
East’s only lead came with Romeo starting the game with an easy layup to put his team ahead 2-0, but the Spartans showed some fight in the second half, shooting much better and not letting the Warriors win the mental game.
“This team’s got a lot of fight to it,” said Justice. “They’re disappointed, because they surely wanted to make a better showing. But (former Woodrow Wilson) Coach (Jerome) Van Meter used to say that if you learn something from every loss, then that’s all you want. We’re playing to get better by the end of the season. That’s what matters.”
The Spartans, ranked No. 5 in the latest Class AAA poll, will be back in action Friday at home against Logan. Oak Hill Academy will host Riverside Christian Academy tonight in Mouth of Wilson, Va. The Warriors will be back in the Mountain State on Jan. 29 when they play Arlington Country Day at the Big Atlantic Classic at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Oak Hill Academy (22-1)
B.J. Stith 6-12 4-6 19, Terrence Phillips 5-10 4-6 14, Caleb Martin 5-9 1-2 13, Cody Martin 5-10 1-2 11, Kem Ubaru 2-6 1-2 5, Toney Anderson 1-4 0-0 2, Trevor Manual 1-2 0-0 2, Jeffery Uju 0-1 0-0 0, Khadim Sy 1-1 0-0 2, Rokas Gustys 1-2 2-2 4, Rodney Miller 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 27-58 14-22 73.
Greenbrier East (8-3)
Ty Walker 1-2 0-2 2, Rondale Watson 4-16 9-14 20, Isaiah Kinder 1-6 0-0 2, Ben Allen 0-1 0-0 0, Josh Tunstalle 1-5 3-5 5, Tyler Canterbury 2-11 0-0 4, Obi Romeo 4-7 2-3 10. Totals 13-49 14-24 43.
OHA 18 25 17 13 — 73
GE 6 11 12 14 — 43
3-point goals — OHA: 5 (Stith 3, Martin 2), GE: 3 (Watson 3). Fouled out — none.