Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Armstrong/Visions by Jeff.
By David Cordova
At this time of year, it is the end of the season for high school basketball and many young players are getting ready for either AAU or graduation. For some of the nation’s top programs, their season isn’t quite over, because they get the opportunity to play in one more event, which is the Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Tournament.
The Dick’s Nationals, which is in its ninth year of existence, has been one of the premier events of the high school season since its inception. Many kids get the opportunity to play on ESPN and also the chance at a national championship. But there is one caveat, this event goes on at the end of March, leading into the month of April.
This year’s event attracted eight teams in the USA Today Sports Super 25 poll, which ended up being La Lumiere School (No. 2), IMG Academy (No. 4), Findlay Prep (No. 5), Montverde Academy (No. 8), who is a three-time winner of the event, Oak Hill Academy, (No. 9), the defending champions, Shadow Mountain High School (No. 10), Wasatch Academy (No. 16) and Greensboro Day School (No. 18).
So far in the tournament, there have been four teams that have gone down, including the defending champions, Oak Hill, who lost to Findlay Prep and IMG Academy, who was upset by Greensboro Day.
In the semifinals, all four teams put up a good fight, but then there could only be two teams that could advance to the championship game for the chance to be one step closer to winning the national title, and also the distinction of being named the best team in the country, when all is said and done.
Montverde Academy 72, Greensboro Day School 45
The first quarter was a battle for both teams as both sides fought for rebounds and attacked the boards when it came to every possession. But Montverde, behind sophomore R.J. Barrett and senior Grant Shepherd, would run off to a 13-9 lead with 2:08 to go in the quarter.
Although Greensboro Day trailed, they still hung tough, due to their smart shot selection and the outstanding play of senior J.P. Moorman, as his scoring ability would help bring them to within three, 19-16, with six minutes remaining in the second quarter. But moments later, two consecutive baskets by junior Rechon Black and senior Sandro Mamukelashvili would bring the Eagles ahead by seven, 23-16, with 5:03 to go.
As the second quarter went on, Montverde would continue to dominate with their rebounding and they would make the Bengals pay for it, as they would go up thirteen points, 33-20, with over two minutes to go before intermission. The Eagles would finish the half, leading by eighteen, 41-23.
In the second half, Montverde continued to pick up where they left off as they then extended their lead to twenty-two, 51-29, in the third quarter. Then in the early stages of the fourth quarter, Greensboro Day showed some signs of life with the scoring of junior John Newman helped the Bengals get to within sixteen, 54-38. The Bengals would get no closer, as the Eagles would win this one in a rout and move on to the championship game.
Barrett led Montverde with 26 points, junior Rechon Black added 12 points and nine rebounds and Mamukelashvili contributed 11 points and seven rebounds. For Greensboro Day, senior Solomon Smith and Moorman both led with 10 points in the loss.
La Lumiere 54, Findlay Prep 52
Early in the game, both teams battled it out and traded basket for basket. But unlike the previous game, there was more of a willpower for both teams to play hard. Findlay Prep established their presence as the more physical team in the beginning on both ends of the court, as they blocked shots and went up for rebounds, which helped them lead, 9-7, with 2:30 to go in the first quarter.
The second quarter saw a lot more enthusiasm from both teams, but the Pilots got ahead with three consecutive points from senior Chris Giles, and took the lead, 16-13, with 5:55 to go. However, with the excitement came technical fouls, as players from both sides were called for unsportsmanlike conduct, which was a byproduct of excitement that went too far. But then things changed for La Lumiere, as senior Brian Bowen hit four consecutive free throws to cut the deficit to 21-19, with 54 seconds to go. However, the Pilots would go into halftime leading by five, 25-20, after a three-pointer by junior Spencer Washington.
Coming out of the gate, La Lumiere gained momentum in the third quarter as consecutive three-pointers by seniors Isaiah Coleman-Lands and Jaren Jackson, Jr. gave the Lakers a 26-25 lead, with 6:49 to go. Then, they would go on a 7-0 run, highlighted by a three-pointer by sophomore Tyger Campbell and then a layup by Bowen which put them up ten, 35-25, with 3:47 to go. As the quarter went on, the Lakers asserted control on the boards and used their running game and executed the plays perfectly, which kept them in double-digits throughout.
In the fourth quarter, the Lakers continued their dominance and ended up with a thirteen-point lead, 49-36, after a layup by Bowen with 5:14 to go in the game. But Findlay Prep would fight back, as they would cut the deficit to seven, 49-42, with 3:55 after a layup by senior P.J. Washington.
As the quarter continued, both teams continued to play physical, but it worked to the Pilots advantage, as they cut the deficit to four, 53-49, with 41.8 seconds to go, after a dunk by junior Reggie Chaney. Then senior guard Justin Roberts hit two free throws with 19.1 left to cut the deficit to one, 53-52.
With 5.8 seconds to go, junior Tony Goodwin II had a chance to help Findlay take the lead, but missed both free throws and then on the other end, La Lumiere junior Grant Buecler was fouled and drew two free throws, and made one with 3.8 seconds to go. The Pilots had a chance for one final shot, but missed as time expired, and La Lumiere would make their second straight appearance in the Dick’s Nationals title game.
Bowen led La Lumiere with 19 points and seven rebounds and Jackson added 11 points and seven rebounds. For Findlay Prep, P.J. Washington led with 13 points, five rebounds and five assists & senior Lamine Diane added 10 points in the loss.