Brock Netter, Staff Writer
OAK HILL — Back on Dec. 20, Oak Hill had no problem handing Waverly its only SOC II loss of the season in 46-29 whip-out fashion.
Just over a month later, Waverly returned the favor and knocked the Oaks out of conference title contention.
Despite Oak Hill (16-4, 10-3 SOC II) controlling a lead for most of Friday’s contest, Waverly (14-3, 11-1 SOC II) hit shots at clutch time and, led by big man Tanner Smallwood, the Tigers stayed alive in the SOC II with a 58-53 victory.
“We knew we had to come out on top and this took all 32 minutes to do so,” Smallwood said after the victory. “Knowing and understand the spot we are in now compared to the last time we played Oak Hill, we’re trying to get to the top. We’re just grinding away.”
Smallwood had himself quite the night, avenging his five-point performance from the first matchup as he finished with a team-high 19 points and eight rebounds.
However, it was the fourth quarter where he took completely over from the floor and the free throw line. Using his 6-foot-6 frame, he routinely took shots from short distance with a soft touch, before showing off his poise at the line to close the deal.
In total, he scored 11 of his 19 points in the final eight minutes to put the Tigers back atop the SOC II.
“One thing we talked about before the game was that we knew this game was going to be won in the paint and at the line,” Smallwood said. “We needed to dominate at the rim and inside. We had the height advantage, so we used it and it worked.”
Waverly stuck to that plan all night as it only shot five times from distance on the evening. The Tigers started 6-of-10 from the floor and controlled a 12-9 lead before Oak Hill’s Keaton Potter buried a triple to tie the game.
Each team hit a pair of shots down the stretch as the game remained tied 16-16 after the first.
Then Oak Hill made its move with a 7-2 run behind buckets from Potter and Chase Hammond to take a 23-18 lead.
Hammond, alongside Drew Hanning, paced the Oaks throughout the rest of the quarter and continued to hit shots that offset Waverly’s inside game.
The Oaks had shot 64 percent from the floor and led 34-27 at halftime.
“We really wanted to close out on the 3-ball since Oak Hill hit three of them that hurt us,” Waverly’s Zeke Brown said. “It was our job to make it an inside game in the second half since that’s where we had the advantage.”
Feeling good about the position they were in, the Tigers continued to feed Smallwood and Brown down low while turning the pressure up defensively.
Using their length on the boards and on the perimeter, they limited any second chance opportunities the Oaks hoped for.
All of that equaled to the Tigers outscoring the Oaks 14-6 and knotting the game at 40 heading into the final frame.
“We’ve been through this before,” Brown said. “We’ve played in a plenty of tight games, or games where momentum isn’t going our way and I think that gave us a slight edge in the fourth.”
It became a battle between Smallwood and Hammond in the fourth as the two big bulls went toe-to-toe in the final frame.
However, despite Hammond scoring 10 of the Oaks’ 13 final points, Smallwood scored 11 of the Tigers’ 18 points and the Tigers had a bit more firepower as Brown and Will Futhey also connected on buckets to help push them over the top.
“Coach [Travis Robertson] has always said that we have the fight in us, it’s just a matter of us showing it,” Smallwood said. “Once we get rolling, we’re hard to stop and it showed. This is a huge win for us, but we have to continue to focus on the next one in front of us.”
After Smallwood, Brown finished with 14 points and five rebounds while Trey Robertson added 13 points and five assists.
Hammond led all scorers for Oak Hill with 23 points and eight rebounds, followed by Hanning with 11 points.
Waverly returns to the court today at Jackson, while Oak Hill is back in SOC II action at South Webster on Friday.