GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Even in their home state, Omaha Central players were unsure what reception they would get at the Heartland Hoops Classic.
“It surprised me. I still feel like we’re still the most hated team in Nebraska,” senior guard Tra-Deon Hollins said. “I came out and it shocked me because we basically had a standing ovation.”
More than 6,000 tickets were sold for Saturday’s eight-game set at the Heartland Events Center. A spokeswoman said starting at about 5:30 p.m., sales were restricted to standing-room-only tickets. The Eihusen Arena has seating for 5,200. Counting the 100 or so $70 floor seats, it was estimated that there were about 5,500 in the arena for Central’s 70-63 win against Oak Hill Academy.
Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said the only crowd larger than that to watch the Warriors play this season was in Kentucky at the Marshall County Hoopfest on Dec. 1.
Oak Hill liked hospitality
A dinner at a Grand Island private supper club hit the spot for Oak Hill’s coach.
“Prime Rib, Shrimp, and Chicken. Raspberry cheesecake for dessert, r u kidding!” was among Smith’s tweets during the Warriors’ two-night stay in Nebraska. The team dined Friday night at the Saddle Club, on the east side of Grand Island, after a walk-through at the Heartland Events Center.
The Warriors got the star treatment Saturday, with their rental vans pulled into the arena’s loading dock. They used a side door to get to their locker room.
“I liked the atmosphere, the crowd,” Smith said after the game.
On Sunday, he tweeted: “25 of 65 from the field and 19 turnovers won’t ever win a road game against a quality opponent. Nebraska hospitality awesome though!”
Smith said last week he had been to the state once previously, probably the 1995-96 season when Oak Hill alum Venson Hamilton was a freshman at Nebraska. Smith came to watch a game and speak at a clinic.
Behrens: Officiating was fair
The local three-man officiating crew of Tim Higgins, Zac Brost and Chris Kabourek was no issue to Oak Hill’s Smith, and Central coach Eric Behrens said it called the game the way he anticipated.
“It was officiated like a college-level game. They don’t bring Oak Hill in here to call ticky-tack fouls and get everybody in foul trouble,” Behrens said. “We told (our players), ‘They’re going to let everybody play.’ Our kids are tough, so they thrive in that.
“The games we have a hard time competing in are those ticky-tack games where it’s a free-throw contest.”
Eagle guards stood tall
Behrens said he was concerned about the matchup problems Oak Hill’s guards posed.
“Their strength is at those wings. Those 6-5, 6-6 wings that are so long and so athletic and you saw how they got to the offensive boards,” he said. “Tra-Deon and KJ (Scott) both play bigger than they are, and with Tre’Shawn (Thurman) we felt we had three guys who could guard those guys.”
Scott had 10 points and six rebounds.
“Kevin ought to be sending this game film all over the place because he played head-to-head with those guys who are going to all these high major schools, and Kevin played with them,” Behrens said. “To me, he can play at that level.”
Hollins, bothered for the past several weeks by a high ankle sprain that kept him out of five games, had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“He plays as hard as anybody I’ve had in all my years of coaching,” Behrens said. “You can’t always put a statistical number on what he does, but we are so much better when he’s on the floor for us.”