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Nation's best tops Patriots

February 13, 1999|By MARK KELLER

ST. JAMES - The Tri-State area's No. 1 team is no longer undefeated, but it took the nation's No. 1 team to do the deed.

Playing with a significant height disadvantage, Thomas Johnson nonetheless hung with Oak Hill Academy (Va.) for much of the game before falling to the top-ranked Warriors 86-69 Friday in the semifinals of the 26th Annual St. James Invitational Tournament.

Oak Hill (28-0) will play Notre Dame Academy (Va.) in tonight's 7:30 p.m. championship game. Notre Dame defeated Montrose Christian 66-56 in the other semifinal.

TJ coach Tom Dickman said after the Patriots defeated St. James on Thursday that his team would need to play a near-perfect game to beat an Oak Hill. TJ was not perfect, but Dickman had little problem with his team's overall play.

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"We really had a hard time making passes and had a hard time dribbling the ball, but we didn't quit," Dickman said. "We just kept scrapping, we got a few runs here and there and our kids gave great effort. That's all I can ask, and they did give great effort."

The Patriots' effort was almost a moot point from the start. Oak Hill looked to put the game away right away, scoring off the opening tip and getting three more points off two TJ turnovers - all within the first 40 seconds. Dickman quickly called timeout.

The Patriots (17-1) settled after the timeout and held their own with the bigger Warriors. They closed to within two, 12-10, before Oak Hill ended the period on a 12-5 run.

Oak Hill extended its lead to 44-27 with two minutes left in the half, but an 8-2 run helped TJ close the gap to 11 at halftime.

"We were up in the second quarter, and they never quit. They could have laid down and they didn't," said Oak Hill coach Steve Smith. "They just keep playing. I think most of that is a tribute to their coach. He does as good a job as anybody we play all year."

The Warriors gradually increased the margin to 16 at the end of the third quarter. A string of five straight dunks, three by Ronald Slay, gave Oak Hill its biggest lead, 82-58, with just under three minutes left.

Oak Hill got the bulk of its scoring from its three big men. Six-foot-7 Travis Watson had 20 points, 6-7 Slay had 19 and 6-8 Abdou Diame had 14. The Warriors outrebounded TJ, 32-17.

"They played a good game. They played us tough, considering the size disadvantage they had," Smith said. "It was hard on them to stop us inside."

Chris Williams led the Patriots with 20 points. Marcus West had 19 and Michael Foreman added 14.

"We made some plays in there. We got our little guys in the lane, made some passes and Chris finished some," Dickman said. "If we can build off this, we're going to be good to go."

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