BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — Jonathan Milloway likely pictured a better ending to his high school career than the one that happened Friday night.
The 6-foot-7 senior, Carnegie Mellon signee and chief cornerstone of Oak Ridge’s postseason run to the Class AAA state tournament exited the state semifinal against highly touted Houston with 40.1 seconds left — in the third quarter.
Fouling out and watching the final quarter of his last high school game wasn’t what he had envisioned.
“It was definitely upsetting,” said Milloway, who paused for a second before finishing the rest of his comment. “It was upsetting.”
Upsetting was an apropos term for Oak Ridge’s second half against the Mustangs and their band of college basketball prospects, who turned a modest halftime lead into a 77-45 victory.
Nationally ranked Houston (20-3) will take on Cane Ridge (15-0) at 5 p.m. Central time Saturday in the state championship game. Neither school has played in or won a boys’ basketball state championship.
Cane Ridge features 5-star prospect Brandon Miller, a 6-foot-7 forward who helped Cane Ridge overcome a 19-point deficit to Collierville in the semifinals to win 55-48.
But, like Oak Ridge (28-6) on Friday, Cane Ridge will find difficulty in dealing with the Mustangs’ defensive length.
Here’s what Houston rolled out against the Wildcats: 6-8 guard Jonathan Lawson (Oregon signee), 6-10 forward Jerrell Colbert (LSU signee), 6-9 forward Mason Miller (Creighton commit, Mr. Basketball finalist), 6-7 forward Cal Greene (D1 prospect) and 6-4 point guard T.J. Madlock, the Region 15-AAA MVP who has mid-major offers.
Even the team’s reserves looked like trees.
Houston out-rebounded Oak Ridge, 40-27, blocked seven shots and shot 50 percent from the floor with 11 3-pointers made.
Lawson led Houston with 20 points. Miller had 12, and Madlock 10. Houston’s Zander Yates, a 6-8 senior, had 14 points — including 12 in a row during the second half.
Meanwhile, Oak Ridge’s 14 turnovers felt like 40.
The Wildcats shot 26.1 percent from the floor, led by Milloway’s 15 points and seven rebounds.
Oak Ridge enjoyed an early 6-0 lead, as 3s from Milloway and Johnathan Stewart provided a nice boost of confidence.
But Houston looked more engaged mentally than it did in a so-so showing Thursday against Clarksville. It turned up its defensive pressure against Oak Ridge after falling behind in the opening minutes and went on a 22-7 run.
The Mustangs led by as many as 12 in the first half. Oak Ridge kept at it, though, and trimmed the deficit to 29-21 at the half.
Houston opened the second half with four 3s in the first four minutes of the third, built the lead to 24 points quickly and triggered the rout from there.
A few technical fouls on Oak Ridge in that opening span only exacerbated the matter, giving Houston easy points at the foul line.
“Got off to a great start (in the first quarter), but you really don’t know how much length like that will bother you until you get out there. In a day prep, you can’t get prepared for that type of length,” said Green. “I thought their zone, they’re so long and athletic that — most of the stuff you score on with most of the teams you play — you can’t score on them.
“So that bothered us. And as bad as we played in the first half, we’re only down eight and gave ourselves a chance. … They got a really good team. They got, I guess, five Division I players. So it’s hard to shut them down. Bottom line, for us to have a chance to win, we were going to have to make some shots in the second half and I don’t think we made any.”
Houston is coached by 41-year-old Mike Miller, a 17-year NBA veteran who won titles with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013. He was a first-round draft pick and was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2001.
After his NBA career concluded, he joined Penny Hardaway’s staff at the University of Memphis for two seasons as an assistant coach before being named head coach at Houston in July 2020.
Even he admitted after the Oak Ridge game that his players were more locked in against Oak Ridge than they were Thursday.
“It’s like anything else, experience is your best teacher,” he said. “So, for everyone besides Jonathan (Lawson), it was their first state tournament game (Thursday). Different atmosphere, different gym and different circumstances. Clarksville played well.
“But their energy level was great,” Miller added about his players against Oak Ridge. “Clarksville got their attention a little bit, which was good.”