When the 2018-19 high school basketball schedules came out, more than a few Nebraska basketball fans made sure to mark down Jan. 26 on their calendars.
That was the day two future Huskers in 2019 Omaha Creighton Prep forward Akol Arop and 2020 Lincoln North Star guard Donovan Williams would face off, and those that made it to the gym at North Star on Saturday certainly got their money’s worth as the game turned into an instant classic.
The Navigators (8-7) pushed the Junior Jays to the brink, taking them all the way to overtime, but Creighton Prep (15-3) pulled out a 77-71 win. Both of the future Huskers showed up in a big way, but a few others stepped up as well and the game was more than a one-man show on either side.
“Deep down inside, I wanted it to be North Star against Prep which I think it came out to be,” Williams said. “I’ve been telling me team all week it’s not about No. 3 and No. 0, it’s about LNS versus Prep, so I think I made that point pretty clear.”
There’s no doubt about it, though — Williams and Arop took center stage all evening long and stole the show. The duo combined for 66 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists.
“It was just great,” Arop said about the battle. “Me and him just going back and forth was amazing. He had some tough shots he hit; me, I had some great moves down low, just going in and finishing.”
Here are some highlights from Creighton Prep vs. Lincoln North Star featuring #Nebrasketball commits @akol_33 (2019) and @DonovanW_ (2020). The two combined for 66 points, 20 rebounds and 7 assists as Arop's Junior Jays won in overtime. pic.twitter.com/xCLVDXtjNG
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) January 27, 2019
Arop finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals. After a slow start, Arop exploded for 13 points in the second quarter, his only miss coming on a desperation contested jumper from the corner to beat the quarter buzzer. He got Prep on the board first in overtime with a bucket inside, then set up teammate Robert Peters for a 3-pointer from the top of the key, the threw down a dunk to give Prep a five-point lead and put the Junior Jays in the driver’s seat the rest of the way.
“He’s a Division I player; there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Williams said. “He proved himself, he’s been proving himself all season. He’s the real deal.”
As for Williams, he put up 36 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals. He nearly had the double-double secured in the first half, putting up 10 points apiece in each of the first two quarters and grabbing nine rebounds in the first 16 minutes. He finished around the rim six times, knocked down four 3-pointers and shot 12-of-14 from the foul line.
“I knew I had to stay in the game almost the whole game and get rebounds and score, obviously, to keep the game close. I just did what I had to do to win the game.”
The 12 rebounds (including 10 on the defensive end) were a career high for the 6-foot-5 guard. North Star’s 6-foot-7 senior post Josiah Allick spent most of the game on the bench in foul trouble, so Williams picked up the slack.
“It was really important,” Williams said. “I had to put in a lot of effort to go and rebound because Akol is such a phenomenal rebounder and our best rebounder, Josiah, was out from foul trouble. So I had to make sure I got in there and fight for the rebounds.”
The third star of the game proved to be North Star sophomore Kwat Abdelkarim who exploded for a career-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting including 4-of-8 from deep. Abdelkarim scored 12 points in the third quarter alone, helping the Gators to pull even heading into the fourth quarter after trailing by six at halftime.
“It’s really good,” Williams said. “It’s kind of emotional for me because he and I have been in the gym for the past three or four years just working. This is the time that all those long nights and long hours in the gym have paid off. He knocked down shot after shot in this game.”
As for the Junior Jays, Prep appears to have righted the ship after a rough stretch that included back-to-back losses and three losses in the span of six games. Prep has now won three in a row after taking down Millard North and Omaha Northwest earlier in the week.
“This was a must-win game for us, it was just really big,” Arop said. “We knew coming in it was going to be a tough game at their home. We just did what we were supposed to do and came out with the win.”
Arop said he’s talking to Tim Miles and Michael Lewis a couple of times each week to stay in touch and keep them updated on how his season is going. Arop is aware the Huskers have hit a rough patch, but he’s trying to keep his mind on his current team right now.
“Right now, I can’t worry about them so much,” Arop said. “I’m just focused mainly on my season. But as soon as my season’s over, my mindset is on Nebraska.”
As for Williams, the future can’t arrive soon enough in his mind
“I want to be a Husker, I’m ready to be one and I wish I could have helped them out [against Ohio State],” Williams said. “But I’ll be there soon.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.