It was not a good night to be a national prep power at the McCallie Dr. Pepper Classic as one “David” dodged a stone and another “David” took one to the temple.
The nation’s No. 2 ranked Oak Hill Academy Warriors overcame a 28-point deficit to remain perfect on the year with a 79-73 thriller over host McCallie in the nightcap. Earlier, Ensworth pulled a stunner over highly-regarded Hamilton Heights with a 71-56 thumping that set the tone that anything could happen on this night.
And for McCallie, it almost did.
The Blue Tornado used an incredible 23-0 run from the end of the first period to middle of the second that had an overflow gym and the raucous home crowd in utter disbelief.
Oak Hill came into the game with 33-0 on the season and carried a 41-game win streak in which just two teams had managed to stay within 10 points of them.
“I’m not sure this program has ever been behind by 28 points and if it has it’s been years,” said Warrior coach Steve Smith of the early punch. “And I know for a fact, we’ve never won a game like this.”
All four clubs will jump back into the fray Saturday with the two winners – Ensworth and Oak Hill – squaring off at 6 p.m. and McCallie tangling with Hamilton Heights at 8.
Oak Hill Academy 79, McCallie 73: The national prep powerhouse out of Virginia which has seen the likes of Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Jerry Stackhouse grace its roster through years had won 109 of its last 115 games over the past three seasons.
Two years ago in this same event, the Warriors cruised to a 30-point win over the Big Blue, but that experience combined with coach John Shulman’s willingness to bring national powers to town for games, played a key role in the hot start. Last year, McCallie fell to No. 1 ranked La Lumiere of Indiana by seven points.
“Two years ago, Junior Clay and the rest of these guys were wide-eyed, but after playing La Lumiere the way we did last year, I don’t think anything was going to phase these guys tonight. That Oak Hill on the jersey didn’t beat us, but those 6-foot-7 guys inside the jerseys sure did,” said Shulman.
McCallie (20-4) scored the first eight points of the game and when Trip Butler knocked down the third of four McCallie 3s in the first quarter it was 13-4.
Even when Will Richardson, the Oregon-bound guard threw down an impressive alley-oop jam, the men in blue were unfazed.
By the time Oak Hill scored another bucket, almost seven minutes of game time had elapsed and McCallie had ran off that 23-0 run to make 36-9 with 4:03 left before half. McCallie’s Clay had 16 of those points and finished the night with 27.
“They came out and hit us in the face,” said David McCormack, the 6-10 center and Kansas signee. “They played hard and had us on our heels. It was about as difficult of a circumstance as I can remember.”
Clay’s layup with 2:01 gave McCallie its biggest lead of the night at 44-16, but the Warriors showed the mettle of a champion, scoring nine straight points in the final 1:47 to make it 44-25 at the half but more importantly gave them a needed shot of adrenalin.
“The guys went to the locker room upbeat. I don’t think we could have done what we did if it hadn’t been for that 9-0 run there,” Smith admitted.
Added Keldon Johnson, the Kentucky-bound senior: “After scoring nine in that quick of a burst, we knew were up to it.”
McCallie stood valiant for most of the third period as Oak Hill chipped away, but still led by 16 with 2:31 left in the third. The Warriors’ full-court pressure slowly began to take its toll, though, and the 9-0 first-half burst was nothing compared to the close of this quarter.
With long arms seemingly everywhere, Oak Hill forced 10 third period turnovers and scored 17 straight points in the final 2:14 to take its first lead at 58-57 into the final period.
The Warriors had four of their seven dunks in the quarter and they seemed to feed off of each slam. Mac Hunt’s 3-pointer put McCallie back into the lead briefly in the final period at 64-62, but three turnovers and Oak Hill’s free throw shooting proved too much to overcome down the stretch.
Oak Hill hit its first 20 free throws and was 15 of 18 from the stripe in the final period.
“You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever lost a 28-point lead at any level,” said Shulman. “They did a really good job of speeding us up. And they just have so much length out there, but how am I supposed to be disappointed with that effort. That was five guys from Chattanooga who stood toe-to-toe with the best players from all over the country.”
Clay, the Tennessee Tech-bound guard for McCallie, definitely showed he belonged on the big stage, leading all scorers with his 26 points.
“We weren’t scared of them. We knew they would be tough, but we’ve been here before. We felt like we belonged on the same court. It was definitely a little weird being up by 28 on them, but we tried to stick to our game plan. They showed why they are who they are,” said Clay.
Jorden Starling and Butler each added 13 points for the Blue Tornado, which made 10 of 17 3-pointers on the night. McCallie had 20 turnovers for the game, including 15 in that final half, but also forced the Warriors into 23 on their side, with 15 of those coming in that first half blitz.
Keldon Johnson led Oak Hill with 24 and Florida-commit Keyontae Johnson added 23. McCormick was next with 16 and Richardson added 13.
Ensworth 71, Hamilton Heights 56: Ensworth came into the event as perhaps the least ballyhooed of the bunch with an 11-8 record, but someone forgot to tell them.
“Our guys didn’t know that the other team was supposed to be better than us,” said Tigers head coach Greg Eubanks. “I think we just really frustrated them. We didn’t back down and when their big guys came into the lane, our guys decided they were going to fight for the real estate down there.”
Ensworth (12-8) got off to hot start shooting, canning all five of its 3s in the first half; including three in the first period when it took a 15-9 lead. The Tigers maintained that early momentum and got a 5-0 run in the final 30 seconds to take a 37-25 halftime lead.
Hamilton Heights (16-7) made a couple of runs to try to swing momentum, but the Hawks just didn’t have an answere for sophomore Keshawn Lawrence, the 4-star football star for the Tigers.
Lawrence scored 10 of his 25 points in the final period and an 8-0 run late made the game a runaway.
“He’s just such a great athlete and a competitor. We don’t have any superstars on this team like we have had the last few years, but man, they love to play for one another. (Jaylan) Clemmons shot the ball well for us and that was a big key, and we manned up on them on our side of the court,” Eubanks added.
Clemmons added 20 for the Tigers with 16 of them coming in that first half. The Hawks were led in scoring by Wheza Ponza with 16 and Yannick Le Guenne with 11 in their second lowest scoring output as team this season.
NOTES: Tom Kelsey, the former Central High School basketball star who played at David Lipscomb and was an assistant coach at LSU, is one of Eubanks assistant coaches after moving his family back to Nashville last year.
E.J. Smith, a McCallie seventh-grader, canned a half-court shot during the McCallie game and won a year’s supply of Chik-Fil-A for his efforts.
Oak Hill Academy 9 16 33 21 -- 79
McCallie 20 24 13 16 -- 73
OAK HILL ACADEMY (79) – Richardson 13, Keyontae Johnson 23, Keldon Johnson 24, Calloo, Kayaloud, Ahemed, Evan Johnson 3, Mack, McCormick 16.
McCALLIE (73) – Starling 13, Walker 3, Clay 27, Butler 13, Gibson 1, Hunt 6, Shulman 8, Hardy 2, Dickey.
3-point goals: Oak Hill Academy 2 (Keldon Johnson 2); McCallie 10 (Clay 3, Butler 3, Hunt 2, Shulman 2)
Ensworth 15 23 14 18 -- 71
Hamilton Heights 9 16 13 17 -- 56
ENSWORTH (71) – Zager 10, Calloway, Clemmons 20, Lawrence 25, Byrd 2, Collier 7, Eubanks 4, King 4.
HAMILTON HEIGHTS (56) – Rawls, Ellis, Panzo 16, Jitoboh 2, Plasvic 9, Gilgeous-Alexander 5, Ruzhentsev 12, Le Guenne 11.
3-point goals: Ensworth 5 (Clemmons 4, Lawrence); Hamilton Heights 4 (Ruzhentsev 2, Panzo, Le Guenne).
(Contact James Beach via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @beachnut1134)