SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. — When Nicholas County guard Luke LeRose converted a three-point play with 7:20 remaining in Tuesday’s game, the Grizzlies trailed Oak Hill 53-46.
Nicholas County also had all the momentum on its side, considering it had trailed 51-31 with 2:21 to play in the third quarter, before LeRose scored 11 points in a span of 3:01 to spark a 15-2 Grizzlies’ run.
But the Red Devils showed why they’re a popular pick to end their season in Charleston and answered with eight straight points and a 13-1 run to seal the verdict en route to an 80-59 victory.
“I was real happy with how we responded when the adversity hit,” Oak Hill coach Benitez Jackson said. “Luke hit some tough shots and that’s what he does. He’s one of the best players in the state so we knew we had to make it hard on him.”
As was the case throughout the contest, a plethora of Oak Hill (4-0) players had a big factor in the decisive fourth quarter run. It began with a 3-pointer from reserve guard Jason Manns, before Michael Beasley made a short jumper that upped the advantage to 58-46.
After Andrew Work made two free throws, LeRose split a pair at the line. Darrick McDowell scored on a follow-up for the Red Devils, as did Work, before McDowell made 1-of-2 free throws to make it 66-47.
That was far too much of a deficit for the Grizzlies (1-3) to overcome, despite LeRose leading all players with 31 points.
“He went down and hit those shots and we had a couple costly turnovers and they went down and converted,” Jackson recalled. “It would have been easy for us to start taking bad shots or whatever, but we responded well to a great crowd here and a good team that we played that played really hard. Our kids hung in there and fought and played together, which I was really happy about.”
Oak Hill countered the offensive outburst from the scoring-minded guard with a balanced effort that featured 19 points and nine rebounds from both Work and McDowell. Donte Billeter came off the bench to add a double double of 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Abraham Farrow scored 10 points, Phiexeous Gray added nine and Manns contributed eight.
“The two bigs (McDowell and Billeter) were big for us today. Donte played really, really well and Donte is one our top scorers. He’s good enough to start on this team, but we’re tinkering around with lineups right now to see what’s best for us. We were really happy with how McDowell played. We thought this was one of his better games in the last two years.”
While the Red Devils held a 17-12 lead after one quarter, the game was relatively tight throughout the entirety of the first half. Nicholas County used a 7-2 run to tie the game at 19 on a Rylee Nicholas trey, but Oak Hill answered with a 9-2 run and went up 28-21 on McDowell’s bucket inside.
LeRose responded with a trey and teammate Tanner Huffman made a layup to bring the Grizzlies back to within two points, but Billeter accounted for five points late in the half and Work added a field goal to send the Red Devils into the half on a 7-0 run with a 35-26 lead.
Oak Hill held a 23-12 rebounding advantage at halftime and it hardly changed in the second half as the Red Devils finished with a 44-24 edge on the glass.
“We’re going to be undersized most nights,” Grizzlies coach Brian Phipps said. “But I thought our kids gave great effort and competed really hard. We had some mental lapses when it comes to executing our offense in the second half and then playing defense got us back in the game, but we had some mental lapses there and a couple guys in foul trouble late.”
After a LeRose 3 cut the Nicholas County deficit to 39-31, Oak Hill answered with a 12-0 run featuring a Gray 3, four free throws by Work, baskets from close range by McDowell and Billeter and one free throw from Manns.
Oak Hill shot 54 percent (27-of-50) from the field and worked its way into 20 points at the free-throw line on 30 attempts.
Huffman scored 12 points for the Grizzlies, but Nicholas County made only 11-of-33 field goals not factoring in LeRose.