WALES — Slow it down on defense, speed it up on offense. That was the recipe for success for Oak Hill on Thursday.

The Raiders’ zone defense eventually caused fits for the Monmouth offense and was the spark plug for Oak Hill’s own attack in a 47-42 boys basketball victory.

“Last year we played that zone against Winthrop, and we did pretty good against it, so we said we’re going to keep it this year,” Oak Hill coach Tom Smith said. “And I’ve got athletic kids that just flat out can play defense.”

The Mustangs had the early momentum, finding offense in transition to go up 7-3. A TJ Lewis basket from Gavin Willet with two seconds left in the first quarter gave Monmouth a 14-12 advantage heading into the second.

Offense wasn’t as easy for the Mustangs after that, and they scored only three points in the second.

“They settled into that 3-2 more often than not, but I thought that they did a nice job of mixing up their defenses,” Monmouth coach Wade Morrill said. “We just got to do a better job of recognizing and executing.”

Lewis, one of the Mustangs’ tallest players facing a taller Oak Hill squad, scored six points in the first quarter but was held scoreless in the second. Cam Armstrong scored the only basket of the frame, and Manny Calder added a made free throw.

Oak Hill’s Ramon Spearman goes up for a layup around Monmouth Academy’s Hunter Frost during Thursday night’s game in Wales. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“We had a lot of good looks at the rim, we just didn’t finish,” Morrill said.

Oak Hill’s leading scorer from a year ago, Gavin Rawstron, had his own struggles in the first half, going just 1 for 4 from the foul line and missing all his field-goal attempts. But he was able to pick up some steals on defense and was a distributor on offense.

“That’s back-to-back games now where it’s been struggling. I guess just getting back in the groove of the game here,” Rawstron said. “But it was more of just relying on my teammates, it was more of throwing them the ball, giving them open looks, and then letting the game come to me in the second half.”

“Gavin is probably one of the headiest ball players I’ve ever had come through this program,” Smith said. “I trust him in his selection, what he does, and everything like that.”

While Rawstron was waiting for his shots to fall, his Oak Hill teammate Ramon Spearman wasn’t waiting for anything, scoring eight of his 12 points in the first half, thanks in part to his transition game.

“We let Ramon Spearman get over our head four times,” Morrill said.

“He’s super-quick, tall, lengthy, just explosive,” Rawstron said of Spearman. “He’s always up and down, running the court. So he’s finding the ball, he makes good plays happen.”

The Oak Hill advantage was 20-17 at halftime. Rawstron quickly snapped out of his funk, scoring on a layup to open the second half. He netted two more baskets and added a free throw in the third.

At the other end, Manny Calder heated up for Monmouth, scoring three baskets in the third quarter, which ended with the Mustangs down 34-30.

“I think a lot of times with young players it’s a confidence issue,” Morrill said of Calder, a sophomore. “He’s a good player. I got a lot of faith in Manny.”

Oak Hill’s Jackson Arbour maintains control of the ball while being pressured by Monmouth Academy’s Hayden Fletcher during Thursday night’s game in Wales. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

One of Monmouth’s few seniors, guard Hayden Fletcher, made things interesting late in the fourth, hitting a 3-pointer with 1:33 left to cut the Mustangs’ deficit down to 41-38.

Rawstron stole momentum right back, completing a three-point play, then connecting on a pair of free throws after a Fletcher layup, extending the Raiders’ lead to 46-40.

Lewis later converted a layup to make it 46-42 with 35 seconds left, and Oak Hill missed the front-ends of a pair of 1-and-1 free throws, but the Raiders got the offensive rebound both times.

“We gave up a big one at the end, off the missed free throw,” Morrill said. “Just situational awareness like that where you can’t let guys get offensive rebounds off of foul shots. We did that twice.”

Fletcher finished with a game-high 14 points, including eight in the fourth. Calder had 12 and Lewis added eight.

Rawstron led the Raiders with 13, while Alex Fournier and Jackson Arbour each added nine.

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