With just more than four minutes remaining in Friday night’s highly anticipated matchup between Oakdale and Urbana high schools, there was a very confused little girl in the Hawk portion of the crowd.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
She wasn’t alone in her confusion.
Urbana, a team that hadn’t lost in more than a month — its only loss prior to the night was to Oakdale on Dec. 11 — and the current owner of the No. 1 ranking in the county, was down 21 points and had managed a less than modest 30 points in 28 minutes of play.
“We need better ball movement. We need to drive the ball more,” Urbana coach John Cooper said. “You just can’t put a finger on it and I just hope that we get back at it tomorrow during practice. I just didn’t like our shot selection tonight. I didn’t like our ball movement.”
The Bears, now 12-2 and likely to become the third team to claim the No. 1 ranking in four weeks, dropped Urbana 57-40 at home, taking its sixth straight victory after getting swept over the holidays.
“We have a goal to get to Comcast this season and I think it’s an obtainable goal,” said senior Kevin Heine, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. “We can definitely do it.”
Oakdale got contributions from just about everybody donning a Bear uniform. Junior point guard Clay Conner gave his team an early lead with 14 first-half points, the vast majority coming off of fast-breaks or dribble drives. Heine was an obvious help with his double-double and timely 3-pointers. Julius Simpson had a big-time block over Brendan Wharton that drew an expectedly raucous reaction from the neon-clad Oakdale student section.
Brian James finished a momentum-boosting basket-and-1 at the end of the third quarter to stretch the Bears’ lead to 17. And the county’s leading scorer, Zach Thomas, matched Conner with a game-high 16 points and was just one rebound shy of a double-double.
“That’s what we focus on,” Thomas said. “We knew coming into this year not one person needed to score 30 a night we knew everybody had to contribute well so if we play like that, if we all contribute, we’re hard to beat.”
For a cross-town rivalry game between the top two teams in the county, Urbana looked sluggish and flat throughout.
“I thought we played hard in spurts but I didn’t think we played as hard as we should have … that’s my job to get them ready to play,” Cooper said. “We looked rattled at times, we looked ugly at times, didn’t look coached at times.”
The Hawks got down early, trailing six after the first quarter, and never really got things going. Thomas Utt, who finished with a team-high 13 points, ignited a 10-3 run to open the third quarter to draw within seven — the first time Oakdale’s lead had been in single digits since it was 18-9 early in the second — but Thomas stamped it out with four quick points which preceded five straight by Heine.
Similarly to how it closed out a win over previously top-ranked Tuscarora on Jan. 8, Oakdale left the game in the hands of its defense. Urbana had no answers for the air-tight, man-to-man being deployed by Oakdale coach Terry Connolly, shooting a woeful 16-of-54, including 2-for-17 from the 3-point line.
“We’ve really turned our focus back to defense for the couple weeks after Christmas,” Connolly said. “And we’ve made it a point to have pride in our defense because, unlike NFL football, defense still wins.”
The win is Oakdale’s second over a top-ranked team this season and the Bears won’t see a team with less than six losses until they visit Tuscarora on Feb. 5.
“We’re not champs,” Connolly said. “We’re a pretty good basketball team but we’re not over-looking anybody. Believe me, we’re not going to look over anybody.”
Oakdale 57, Urbana 40
Oakdale 13 17 17 10—57
Urbana 7 9 12 12—40
Oakdale (12-2; 7-0): Clay Conner 16; Zach Thomas 16; Kevin Heine 14; John Bush 6; Brian James 3; Austin Gibson 2.
Urbana (10-2; 5-2): Thomas Utt 13; Darren Ambush 8; Brendan Wharton 6; Charlie Norris 3; Conner Wrightson 3; Ian Eversull 3; Kyle Singer 2; Devin Tiffany 2.