On Saturday evening, two future Huskers in the high school ranks faced off against each other in an instant classic as Omaha Creighton Prep (led by 2019 Nebraska signee Akol Arop) took down Lincoln North Star (led by 2020 Nebraska commit Donovan Williams) 77-71 in overtime.
The two future Huskers combined for 66 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists in a back-and-forth battle. Here are five thoughts on how the game played out.
Akol Arop Shows the Whole Arsenal
After a dominating start to the season, Akol Arop had a five-game stretch recently where he scored 17 or less in each game while shooting under 50 percent from the field in four of the five. He got back on track with a 25-point game against Millard North on Monday then stepped it up another level against the Gators on Saturday.
Arop finished with 30 points on 12-of-19 from the field and 6-of-8 from the free-throw line. He also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out three assists, blocked three shots and recorded two steals.
Arop scored in a variety of ways, showcasing some nifty moves in the post, driving to the rim out of face-up situations, converting on cuts to the basket and getting to the foul line. The play that caught my eye the most, however, was a two-dribble step-back jumper from the free-throw line. After a good start, Arop has struggled with his 3-point shot recently (he hasn’t hit one since Jan. 3). But gaining consistency with the shot is going to take a lot of reps. In the meantime, he’s continued to show good touch on mid-range shots like the one I described and is shooting around 70 percent from the free-throw line, a solid step up from where he was last year.
Donovan Williams Put the Team on His Back
Williams rose to the occasion of playing against his future teammate in Arop, cracking 30 for the third time in his last five games and posting a new season-high with 36 points. He also grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds for his second double-double and first since the season opener. Williams chipped in four assists and two steals for good measure.
North Star’s second-leading scorer, Josiah Allick, spent most of the game on the bench in foul trouble and only one other Gator besides Williams finished with more than six points. Williams carried a heavy offensive load on Saturday, taking nearly half of North Star’s shots and accounting for 14 of North Star’s 17 free throw attempts.
Twelve of Williams’ points came at the rim, 12 came from the free-throw line and 12 came from beyond the arc. Nothing was easy for Williams — Prep had one or two defenders waiting in the paint any time he got past his own man on the perimeter — yet he still found a way to be successful. North Star took one of the best teams int he state down to the wire and Williams was a big reason for that.
Robert Peters Picked his Spots
Robert Peters, Prep’s 5-foot-8 senior point guard, has been up and down this season. When he’s playing well, the Junior Jays are really tough to beat. When he’s not, Prep has a tough time scoring enough points. At times he has a tendency to force things when he’s well-defended.
That didn’t really happen on Saturday, however. Peters played the point guard role well, picking his spots and picking apart the North Star defense with the pass first. He finished with eight assists and no turnovers, passing ahead to shooters on the wing in transition or getting in the paint, collapsing the defense and finding the open man.
He didn’t score in the first half, missing all three of his shots, but he came alive with 11 points in the second half including a big 3-pointer in overtime. Instead of forcing the issue, Peters waited for his opportunities and answered the ball in big moments. That’s the way they need him to play if they’re going to make a run in March.
Kwat Abdelkarim Can Be a Difference-Maker
On Saturday, sophomore wing Kwat Abdelkarim showcased his potential in a breakout game, scoring a career-high 22 points on 8-of-13 from the field including 4-of-8 from 3. He grabbed five boards and four steals and chipped in two assists and a block as well.
Abdelkarim is only fourth on the team in scoring at 7.0 points per game, but he’s doing it in a really efficient manner. Abdelkarim is shooting over 50 percent from the field, over 40 percent from 3 and over 70 percent from the free-throw line.
Before Saturday, Abdelkarim had only cracked double figures in six of his 14 games. Simply put, North Star needs a lot more production from him, and to get that the Gators need to feature him a little more on offense. Give him a chance to do more of what he did on Saturday.
If defenses have to worry about Abdelkarim as a legitimate scoring threat, it should take some pressure off of and attention away from Williams, offering the junior a chance to be more efficient as well.
Supporting Cast Gets it Done
A big part of Prep’s recent struggles and Arop’s declining production was the inconsistent play of everyone around Prep’s two stars in Arop and senior guard Thomas Faber.
Faber came out of the gates on fire, knocking down his first four shots and scoring Prep’s first 11 points. However, he picked up his second foul late in the first quarter and sat for the entire second period, taking him out of the rhythm he established early. He only took four shots in the second half and finished with 14 points.
Prep needed others to step up, and they did. Junior wing Spencer Schomers struggled with his shot but gave some good minutes defensively against Williams with Faber (Williams’ initial defender) in foul trouble. He finished with five boards, three steals and a block. Senior forward CJ Wolfe only hit two shots, but they both came in the fourth quarter and he added six rebounds, two assist sand two blocks to his five points. I’ve already touched on Peters.
Prep good good production off the bench as well as all three subs found the scoring column with two points by sophomore forward AJ Rollins, three by senior wing Louis Hacker and six on a pair of triples by sophomore wing Mai’Jhe Wiley.
North Star came to play, and Prep got enough out of its supporting cast to fend off the upset bid by the Gators.
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.