FORT MYERS, Fla. — Omaha Central validated its City of Palms Classic invitation with Tuesday's 62-37 win over McDonough (Ga.) Eagle's Landing.
The next step for the Eagles is to prove they merit a place among the top high school basketball teams nationally, starting with Wednesday's 5 p.m. CST quarterfinal against Long Beach (Calif.) Poly.
Eagle's Landing coach Clay Crump wouldn't rule out a long stay in the winners bracket for the Omahans after a second half in which his team was outscored 38-18.
“They have good guard play, they have a really good inside player and they're well-coached,” Crump said. “I think they have a great chance to win it.”
As in their four previous wins, the Eagles got four players into double figures for scoring. Akoy Agau had a game-high 16 points, with Tra-Deon Hollins and Tre'Shawn Thurman getting 12 apiece and KJ Scott 11.
It was far from their best offensive performance in a 41-game winning streak that tied them with Grand Island (1947 to 1949) for the longest in Class A history. They shot 29 percent in the first half (9 of 31) and got to 42.9 for the game by shooting 60.0 (15 of 25) in the second half.
Central's defense, however, was consistently good. Eagle's Landing (6-3) never scored field goals on consecutive possessions while Central had its starters in the game.
Central left its man-to-man defense for a 2-3 zone, too, after Agau picked up his third foul late in the first half. The 6-foot-9 senior, who started the second half, never got another one.
“Our kids did a good job with the zone. It kept us out of foul trouble and them off the line,” Central coach Eric Behrens said. “I was very concerned that if we didn't have Akoy out there that (Eagle's Landing) would just throw it inside to (Desmond) Ringer and I don't know if our other kids are big and strong enough.
“We started the second half in the 2-3 to protect him. We preached to him at halftime to just stay down, not be a shot blocker, which is hard for him because he is one, but challenge everything from the ground.”
Central had a 14-2 start to the second half in the game played at Bishop Verot High School, including a 10-0 run that essentially knocked out Eagle's Landing.
Thurman, a 6-6 junior, started the outburst with a second-chance basket that followed Hollins getting an offensive board. Hollins, who had gone scoreless in a 0-for-6 first half, finished off a fast break for his second basket of the quarter.
Agau followed with a baseline jumper and then his first dunk of the tournament before another Hollins basket gave Central a 38-24 lead.
Behrens said the halftime emphasis, beyond fouling less, was better shot selection against the Eagle's Landing 2-3 zone and defensive rebounding against an opponent's front line that includes the 6-8 Ringer, a South Carolina recruit, and 6-5 Eric Wortham (Middle Tennessee).
Central went to the fourth quarter with a 43-26 lead on Scott's 3-pointer. Its lead still was 16 points before a 15-0 run for a doubled-up score — 62-31 — allowed Behrens to get all 14 players who made the trip into the game.
“We came out and played with great intensity,” Agau said. “We had to prove ourselves that we belong here, so we came here with a mindset and a chip on our shoulder. I think we did a great job of it.”
Eagle's Landing, which had lost twice in a Memphis-Atlanta challenge series earlier in the month, never led after scoring the opening basket. Central had an 11-2 lead after three minutes and only twice, both in the second quarter, did the Georgians have the lead down to three.
They hurt their cause with 10 first-half turnovers and by making only 3 of 9 free throws.
“They executed better than we did coming out the third quarter,” Crump said. “When they went zone, we shot 25 percent the second half. We just didn't play very well.”
Omaha Central (5-0)......................................13 11 19 19—62
McDonough (Ga.) E. Landing (6-3) ................6 13 7 11—37
C: Akoy Agau 6-7 4-4 16, KJ Scott 4-11 1-3 11, Tra-Deon Hollins 6-13 0-0 12, Deandre Hollins-Johnson 0-3 1-4 1, Tre'Shawn Thurman 5-12 1-2 12, Malik Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Christian Harmon 0-0 0-1 0, John Carter 0-0 0-0 0, Nick Billingsley 3-9 0-0 6, Jon Allee 0-0 0-0 0, LaTrell Jameson 0-1 0-0 0, Austin McGaugh 0-0 0-0 0, Reath Nyoach 0-0 0-0 0, Jace Schwarz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-56 10-16 62.
EL: Chris Davenport 2-6 3-5 8, Eric Wortham 2-9 0-1 5, Jordan Session 0-1 0-0 0, Isaiah Dennis 2-12 0-2 6, Desmond Ringer 4-9 1-2 9, Maurice Green 0-0 0-0 0, Tyler Guice 0-0 0-0 0, Trevin Joseph 5-10 0-0 0, Bradley Dewberry 0-0 0-0 0, Warren Wright 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-47 4-10 37.
3-point goals: C 4-13 (Scott 2-4, Hollins-Johnson 0-1, Thurman 1-4, Billingsley 1-4), EL 3-13 (Wortham 1-4, Session 0-1, Dennis 0-2, Joseph 2-6). Total fouls: C 12, EL 15. Fouled out: none. Technicals: none. Turnovers: C 11, EL 19. Rebounds: C 35 (Hollins, Thurman 8). EL 30 (Ringer 11). Field-goal percentage: C .429, EL .319. Free-throw percentage: C .625, EL .400.
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