By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – When the GEICO High School Nationals were seeding the tournament last month, it was forgone conclusion that La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) would nab the top seed and need to blow off the rust after a long layoff. After all the Lakers had not played since Feb. 20 and were perfect through 28 games.
And eighth-seed Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), the winners of eight straight Nevada state championships, were extended an invitation to the GEICO High School Nationals when a team from Georgia bowed out for an array of reasons.
It was Gorman’s reprieve to play in the national championship in the first year when the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association gave the okay to play in the event. For 48 minutes, Gorman went toe-to-toe with La Lumiere, who many feel is the best high school team in the country.
Yet with a lofty ranking comes the bull’s-eye painted on your back and the Lakers were well aware of it.
The Lakers did survived and needed two overtimes to outlast three-point driven Gorman, 74-69, in GEICO National quarterfinals Thursday at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
It wasn’t pretty but coach Pat Holmes and the boys from northwest Indiana will take it and run into the semifinals on Friday afternoon. Only a superior effort land them back in the national final for the first time since they won in 2017.
With the top half the bracket already drawn up with Montverde (Fla.) and IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) meeting in the semifinals, the Lakers joined them and will play Friday against Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) or Wasatch Academy (Mount Pleasant, Utah) at 4 p.m. EDT in the other semifinal.
A year ago, Montverde was the top seed and needed to win a zany game late in the fourth quarter en route to the championship. La Lumiere hopes this is a portend of things to come.
When Kentucky-recruit Keion Brooks (18 points, 10 rebounds) flipped in a shot at the rim off a spin move, the Lakers would not cough up the lead again. That made it 70-68 and then Gerald Drumgoole (five points) hit a putback it was 72-69. Gorman had chance to tie but Lakers clinched with two free throws in the final 30.4 seconds.
Isaiah Stewart, a chiseled post and Washington recruit, had 25 points and seven rebounds and slippery guard Wendell Green collected 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists. La Lu hit 23 of 60 shots and 23 of 35 from the free-throw line.
With the season on the brink and La Lu needing a boost, the Lakers leaned on Stewart, who is the national high school player of the year. Stewart, a native of Rochester, New York (about six hours from Queens), scored five straights, including a rim-rattling dunk as the Lakers led 51-46 with just over four minutes remaining.
Gorman stayed within striking distance thanks to their perimeter game.
La Lu jumped to a 62-59 edge in overtime before Will McClendon tied it on a three with 2:27 left. The game stayed tied at 64 and 66 with each team having a chance to win with possessions in the final 10 seconds but a second extra session emerged.
With the score tied at 56 in the final minute, Brooks knocked down a key 3-pointer under pressure to beat the shot clock at 16 seconds but Isaiah Cottrell forced overtime at 59-all drilling a three of his own with 4 seconds to go. La Lumiere’s Wendell Green could have won in regulation but missed a runner from 12 feet at the buzzer.
Green proved clutch in the fourth, sinking a 3-pointer to tie it at 43. At 7:02, Brooks gave La Lu a 41-40 lead but no lead was safe.
Gorman kept pestering the top seeds in the third as the game went back and forth. McClendon’s trey with 4:41 left gave Gorman a 30-29 edge and 20 second later, Chance Michels (nine points) responded with his third straight three of the contest.
The Gaels continued their hot streak as Noah Taitz (16 points, five rebounds and four assists) buried his team’s ninth 3-pointer of game and led 41-33. La Lu punched back and made it 41-40 on Green’s traditional three-point play in the final minute.
Zaon Collins (12 points, seven assists) assured that Gorman would carry a lead into the final quarter when he dusted his man, splitting the lane for a layup with 4 seconds left and a three-point advantage at 43-40.
Gorman dug itself in a hole in the second quarter but quickly recovered. The Gaels took nearly six minutes to break the ice in the second when Michels nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to close within 21-15. At 1:02, Michels swished another trey and it was 21-18 and La Lumiere burned a timeout needing to regroup.
It appeared that Gorman halfway to the upset in the waning seconds of the first half when Zaon Collins drove the baseline and laid in a floater for a temporary 22-21 lead with 8 seconds left. Following a timeout Green broke the token pressure and drilled a 3-pointer as time expired for a 24-22 lead.
The sluggish second quarter was won by La Lu, 10-9, but Gorman’s push in the final 2:02 made it a game again. Taitz scored seven points for Gorman. Green and Stewart tossed in eight points apiece for the Lakers, who were a frigid 7 of 24 shooting for 29.2% and held a slight 16-13 on the boards.
The Gaels were 9 of 21 for 42.9% shooting and if not for the poor start to the second, might have been up at halftime.
La Lumiere did not play like the nation’s No. 1 team in the early portion of the first quarter. Gorman was spunky, playing with the lead and the game was knotted at 8 at four minutes. The Lakers closed on 7-4 spree, carrying a 15-12 lead into the second.
Brooks and Stewart combined for nine points while Gorman’s McClendon and Taitz each scored five points. Gorman made 5 of 11 shots but La Lumiere outrebounded them narrowly 8-7.
Four players hit for double-figures in the loss led by McClendon’s 22 points. The Gaels were heavily reliant on the three-point shot and drained 13 of 25 attempts for 52%. The Gaels were outrebounded 44-28 and overall did not shot the ball well, making on 23 of 58 for 43.1%.
Gorman, which returns four starters and key players off the bench, will be loaded in 2019-20 and likely ranked in the preseason Top 10 nationally. The Gaels finished 28-5 and had their win streak stopped at 11 games.