By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) survived Friday.
It’s hard to script the finish of the Lakers’ thrilling 58-57 cliffhanger over fourth-seeded Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) in the GEICO High School Nationals semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
When you dissect the final 22.4 fateful seconds, it was schoolboy basketball at its very peak and a Cinderella ending that was born out of the New York City but scrapped when Cam Thomas’ 15-foot baseline jumper clanged off the rim as time expired for Oak Hill.
Oak Hill had three cracks at it in the dying seconds and the basketball gods said no. Twice two players that squared off in this gym for the previous three seasons—as members of rival New York Catholic League schools from the borough of Queens—could have won it for the Warriors.
Yet the top-seeded and unbeaten Lakers and the nation’s No. 1 team according to some outlets dodged the bullets. Three times was not the charm for the Warriors and their season is halted at 37-5.
For the second straight day, the Lakers (30-0) avoided the upset and now play for the GEICO Nationals’ championship against third-seeded IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) Saturday at 12 p.m. EDT on ESPN. In the quarterfinals, La Lu held off Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) and now looks to annex their second GEICO crown in three season but the first under second-year coach Pat Holmes, who was an assistant on the last championship team in 2017.
The winner also earns the National Championship. In 11 years, the GEICO Nationals is the paradigm for championship-caliber teams. Saturday’s game will be no different.
Those final seconds were played at a frenetic pace but the lines were blurred until the final buzzer sounded the La Lu faithful gleefully let loose and the players praised skyward as through manna dropped from the heavens. Considering the final seconds, it was surely was a gift.
OHA’s Kofi Cockburn and Cole Anthony figured prominently in the final sequences. Twice Anthony (formerly of Archbishop Molloy in Briarwood, Queen) dished to Cockburn, who was playing on his former home court at Christ the King, near the rim and twice the shot was off target.
OHA had one last chance to win it when La Lu tipped Cockburn’s second miss out of play. OHA burned its final timeout, calling for Thomas (22 points, seven rebounds) to pull the trigger.
No dice. And that was that.
Anthony, who father played in the NBA with the New York Knicks, concluded his prep career with 11 points and eight assists but made only 4 of 16 shots. Cockburn, who verballed to Illinois, collected 11 rebounds and six points.
OHA wouldn’t go down without a fight and cut it to 58-55 with 46.1 seconds when an inbounds pass was tipped and Thomas alertly picked it up and tallied the lay-in.
With four minutes left, Paxson Wojcik flipped in a nifty pull-up 10-footer that pushed La Lu’s lead to 54-51. Earlier in the fourth, there was an oddity on back-to-back possessions. Gerald Drumgoole and Christian Brown (eight points) both registered four-point plays after sinking 3-pointers. Stewart added a dunk for a 52-46 La Lu edge—their largest of the second half.
In the third quarter, Thomas slithered past the La Lu defense along the baseline for a deuce and OHA’s largest lead at 36-28. Before the media timeout, the Lakers scored seven unanswered points and trailed by one, 36-35. Brooks canned a long 3-pointer and interior basket during the mini run.
Isaiah Stewart’s tip-in at the third-quarter buzzer provided La Lumiere a 44-42 lead. The final 2:50 saw the Lakers take the lead on Stewart’s tip-in at 37-36. The game was tied at 40 and 42 before Stewart snuck in on the weakside to follow-up a missed shot.
Thomas put the finishing touches on the first half when he released on a break before skying over a La Lu defender and the lead was 30-26 at the break. As poorly as the Warriors played in the first quarter, they were dominant in the second with a 19-4 spurt.
La Lumiere went 1 of 11 in the second after opening the game on fire. OHA’s intensity picked up as did Lakers’ frustration and shot selection.
After a shaky start, OHA shot 41.9% from the floor on 13-of-31 accuracy. OHA’s running game and 12 points from Thomas accounted for the rally. Anthony added seven points and dished out five assists.
Brooks, who was shut out in the second quarter, had seven points and Stewart added six points and eight rebounds for the Lakers.
Oak Hill eventually calmed down and tied it and took the lead in the second quarter. Dylan Cardwell’s dunk off an alley-oop feed from Anthony leveled things at 24 with 4:08 left. The Warriors continued to defend to raced into the lead on a fast-break conversion by Thomas with 100 seconds to go in the half.
It was a spirited first quarter for the Lakers, who less than 24 hours ago eked out a victory in the quarterfinals. La Lu led 22-11, doubling up the Warriors. Brooks scores seven points and Drumgoole added five during the spurt. The Lakers made 10 of 16 shots for a sizzling 62.5%.
Brooks topped the Lakers with 20 points and six rebounds and the Washington-bound Stewart added a double-double of 14 points and 16 rebounds. Stewart is a McDonald’s All American from Rochester, N.Y. Drumgoole, a Pitt recruit, chipped in 12 points.
La Lu held a 32-28 edge on the boards and connected on 25 of 53 shots for 47.2% and sank five 3-pointers.