By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – Tournament basketball is dicey and there is fine line between winning and losing. Win or go home and losing does not allow you to call winners like on the playground. The postseason is cruel that way.
Montverde (Fla.) Academy will live to play another day and did so with a fourth-quarer ambush that included a 17-0 spurt while holding seventh-seeded University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) pointless for over five minutes in a 65-57 victory Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
The third-seeded Eagles (22-2) move into Friday’s semifinals against second-seeded IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) at 2 p.m. EDT.
University, which won a second consecutive Florida Class 5A state championship in February, was poised to spring the upset of the nationally ranked Eagles. And coach Jim Carr’s team was up a point, 44-43, in the less than a minute into the fourth quarter when the unthinkable unspooled.
The Sharks lost their bite allowing a 17-0 run that gave Montverde the necessary separation. Additionally, McDonald’s All American big man Vernon Carey, Jr. left the game with five minutes left with an injury and did not return. Carey, who is one the nation’s top players from the Class of 2019, closed out his illustrious prep career with a quiet double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Early in the fourth, freshman Caleb Houstan nailed a corner three stretching Montverde’s scoreline to 48-44 and Cade Cunningham followed with a basket to make it 50-44.
Harlond Beverly added back-to back jumpers to boost Montverde’s lead to 55-44 with 3:49 left. Less than two minutes into the fourth, coach Kevin Boyle called a timeout to inspire his team. Whatever he said worked and the Eagles were cooking again and ran off 17 unanswered points.
Finally the run dried up with 2:18 to go when Scottie Barnes hit two free throws but the deficit was still 14 points at 60-46.
Montverde’s 27-14 run in the fourth was the difference and that’s why they are looking for a second straight GECO Nationals title and fifth overall under Boyle.
Beverly, a 6-5 undecided senior, topped all scorers with 25 points, sinking 9 of 11 shots and 2 of 2 from three-point land, and grabbed three rebounds. His classmate and McDonald’s All-American forward Precious Achiuwa added 10 points, making 5 of 9 shots, and snaring seven rebounds. It was a homecoming for Achiuwa, who is from the Bronx and transferred to Montverde last summer after playing locally at St. Benedict’s in Newark, N.J.
Montverde went 25 of 53 from the floor for 47.2%.
When the teams came back after halftime, University regained its edge.
Moses Moody (eight points) canned a 15-foot jumper from the left side to give Montverde a seven-point edge at 37-30 at 4:32 of the third. But the Sharks remained undeterred and regained the lead at 38-37 on Howard’s 3-pointer from the left wing.
Montverde carried a slim 41-40 lead into the fourth quarter on 7-1 Balsa Koprivica’s putback with 7 seconds left. Koprivica, who is from Serbia, came off the bench to tally 10 points and two rebounds. Koprivica singed with Florida State.
The game was much crisper than the first half as the teams only committed 17 turnovers through three.
The first half was low scoring with the Eagles up 31-26, but it was action packed with both teams unleashing their transition game. Late baskets by Beverly and Moody and a steal and layup from the promising Houston rallied the Eagles.
The pace slowed down in the second and the shots weren’t falling until 5:20 on Roger McFarlane (15 points) driving layup.
Just under two minutes left in the half, Achiuwa, who is uncommitted, dropped in a 10-footer from the right baseline and the Eagles were up 23-22 but Carey restored University’s lead at 26-25 moments later with a long 3-pointer from the right wing.
Montverde’s 18-9 second-quarter run keyed the comeback. Beverly scored 11 points to top the Eagles and Carey had 11 points and six rebounds for University, which shot 10 off 22 (45.5%) from the field.
The Sharks were on the attack early on and took an 11-4 edge when junior Scottie Barnes electrified the packed house with a thunderous slam-dunk in transition with 4:05 left in the first. Eventually things settled down for Montverde and they were only down 17-13 through one.
Barnes, Jett Howard and Carey each scored five points for the Sharks while Beverly and Cunningham had five and four points, respectively for Montverde. University sank 7 of 11 shots (63.6%) in the opening period.
A year ago, the teams met for the GEICO Nationals title, which was won by Montverde, 76-58. Montverde featured MVP RJ Barrett, who went on to have a sensational freshman season at Duke and is likely declaring for the 2019 NBA Draft. Carey, who was a junior, posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough.
When the Sharks returned home after last year’s GEICO Nationals, coach Adrian Sosa stepped down, and assistant Jim Carr was elevated to the head job. Carr was a longtime college assistant with stops at Rutgers and Rhode Island. Carr recruited New Jersey heavily when Boyle was coaching at national powerhouse St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J.
Besides the Duke-bound Carey, the Sharks received double-digit scoring from Howard (10 points), McFarlane (10 points, 7 of 10 shooting) and Barnes (12 points and 11 rebounds). Barnes, like his teammate Carey, is a surefire future NBA player.
University was held to 22 of 56 shooting (39.2%) and hit only 5 of 18 from on threes.