Oak Park boys basketball thrives beyond the arc, but falls to Rolling Hills Prep

OAK PARK — Rolling Hills Prep held off an Oak Park team that found its footing in the second half to win 52-49 Friday night in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2AA boys basketball playoffs.

The Huskies (23-5) played tough in the paint defensively to force Oak Park (19-10) to the perimeter, a place where the Eagles found comfort as the game went on.

Sophomore Steven Melina made five 3-pointers for a team-high 15 points in the game. Aaron Huggins followed with 13 points and Shay Henderson added nine points.

“I got up a lot of shots this morning, shot a lot of 3s, watched some film,” Melina said. “They don’t really play the perimeter well, so we expected to shoot a lot of 3s in this game.”

Aaron Huggins scored the first points of the game three minutes into the first quarter on a 3-pointer in what would go on to be a tightly contested first quarter that was played almost entirely beyond the arc.

Mateo Nicolas hustled for multiple steals with three minutes left in the second frame before passing to Jadon Holmes for a mid-range jumper that brought the score to 18-17 in the Huskies’ favor.

Nicolas sank two 3-pointers within a minute to pull Oak Park ahead 23-22 with 32 seconds left until halftime, but Rolling Hills Prep squeezed in a basket with five seconds left for a one-point lead at the break.

Ethan Perez made a 3 to start off the scoring and a quick five-point run in the third quarter. Perez grabbed a steal and took it in for a layup to give the Eagles a 28-24 advantage.

“(Nicolas and Perez) are two of the hardest-playing kids I’ve ever played with in my life,” Melina said. “They will give you that 100% effort, pick you up 94 feet and take the ball and go make a layup every time.”

Rolling Hills Prep battled back by outrebounding Oak Park to create their own scoring opportunities.

“They had their length inside and they’re big and we just gave them too many because we weren’t able to rebound the ball as we should,” Oak Park coach Aaron Shaw said.

The Eagles stretched their game beyond the arc to keep the score close in the final frame. Henderson and Steven Melina both made 3-pointers.

Mateo Trujillo’s 3-pointer gave the Huskies a one-point lead with less than two minutes remaining, and Oak Park didn’t have an answer in a chaotic end to the game.

Melina, one of two sophomore starters this season alongside Jaden Holmes, said he plans to come into the gym at 5:30 the following morning to put up more shots.

“We had great seniors,” Shaw said. “They’ve left their mark. Our younger guys, they’ll now have more opportunities and they need to put the work in to continue to improve.”

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