Boys Championship Game

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – The feeling was palpable throughout the room. Somewhere in a distant gymnasium and meeting room, the basketball axiom that defense wins championships rang loud and clear.

Coaches could care less about points unless they have more in the score book than their opponents.

IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) pleased many a coach Saturday afternoon when it defeated top-seeded La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.), 66-55, in the 11th GEICO High School Nationals final at sold-out Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

“Everybody talked about our talent, talent, talent but these guys really love each other and that’s the way it was when we started school in August,” IMG coach Sean McAloon, who came to the Florida school two years after a successful run at St. John’s College in Washington, D.C.

Chemistry and brotherhood carried IMG all the way to the finish line. Clearly this is the National Champions. Forget the arguments for another school from Georgia; there is no question this time. IMG beat the top two GEICO seeds within a span of 24 hours to secure high school most coveted title.

“What killed us today was three-point shooting,” La Lumiere second-year coach Patrick Holmes said. “We went 4 of 23. We had good looks but the shots wouldn’t fall. That and IMG’s transition basket in the fourth quarter blew open the game. We only had six turnovers; they [IMG] took us out of our rhythm.”

La Lumiere was fortunate by most accounts to be in the final. The Lakers eked out wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals. To say the least, La Lu provided entertainment and a few heart-stopping moments in beating Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) and Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) en route to the final. In both the boys’ and girls’ brackets, the top seeds did not win prevail.

IMG lost just once this season, dropping a 72-67 decision to Mountain Brook (Birmingham, Ala.), which won a third consecutive Alabama Class 7A (large-school) championship in March. That setback occurred in the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Florida in December. Since then the Ascenders peeled off 19 straight victories entering the GEICO Nationals title game.

Make that 20 straight wins heading into the 2019-20 season.

In the girls’ final, New Hope Academy of Landover Hills, Maryland won the GEICO National and are ultimately the National Champions. IMG is in good company.

Heading into the final 3:48 of the contest, IMG held its ground with a 57-49 edge. The defense was tight forced the Lakers into turnovers they normally do not concede. The Ascenders closed the game ion a 9-6 run.

Villanova-bound Jeremiah Earl-Robinson, who was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, scored 18 points, making 7 of 10 shots and hauled down seven rebounds. Josh Green added a game-high 19 points with two made 3-pointers. Jaden Springer had 12 points and seven assists. All three were all tournament.

Keion Brooks scored 15 points and Washington-bound post man Isaiah Stewart added 15 points and cleared five rebounds in the loss. Both joined IMG’s trio on all tournament. Gerald Drumgoole had 12 points, hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers.

A late flurry of points in the third gave IMG a 48-41 lead. Jarace Walker’s 3-pointer from the right wing with 28 seconds to go capped the quarter.

“That three from Walker killed us,” Holmes acknowledged.

The Ascenders were clicking in the third and were up by six at 39-33 with 3:51 left. North Carolina-bound Armando Bacot slammed home two of his six points and Springer nailed a 3-pointer in transition to highlight the run.

IMG opened its largest lead at 45-36 late in the third on Green steal and layup.

Just when IMG gained momentum in the final seconds of the half, Drumgoole sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it 31-26 at halftime. IMG’s Green had 13 points and teammate Robinson-Earl added 10.

Stewart had eight points and Brooks struck for seven in the opening half for the Lakers.

Twice in the second quarter, the Ascenders were up eight points at 31-23 and 28-20.

IMG, unlike the semifinals, opened with a bang going up 15-8 after one quarter. Robinson-Earl paced IMG with eight points.

“IMG is known as a football school, but now were are a basketball school that has won the national championship. Today we never gave up,’’ Bacot added.

Girls Championship Game

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – New Hope Academy of Landover Hills, Maryland left no doubt: National Champions.

In perhaps the greatest field ever assembled for a girls’ basketball postseason tournament, the Tigers were on the prowl and prevailed on Saturday morning.

New Hope is a relatively new team on the national scene and in less than two years, the Tigers are atop the girls’ hoop planet.

Please, point the index finger skyward because New Hope Academy is No. 1. That’s the facts and no one can deny it.

Sticking to the basics with all players buying into a blue collar work ethic, New Hope were crowned the queens of the court after dispatching second-seeded St. John’s College (Washington, D.C), 45-34, to capture the GEICO High School Nationals championship at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

New Hope entered the annual tournament as the fourth and final seed and heads back to Prince George’s County as the National Champions. Two years ago, Sam Caldwell was coach in need of a job and New Hope wanted to build a girls’ basketball program in the DMV, which is perhaps the nation’s deepest talent pool.

Caldwell was hired at New Hope after a highly successful run at Riverdale Baptist School (Upper Marlboro, Md.), including two GEICO Nationals’ championship. Saturday morning he came the first girls’ coach in the 11-year history of the event to bag three titles.

Honestly, New Hope made a great hire.

“From the first day of workouts in August our players and coaches have made great sacrifices to reach this point. I’m not the easiest coach to play for but I haven’t done too bad over time at Riverdale Baptist and now at New Hope Academy,” Caldwell said. “We won because our school gave us tremendous support and the kids bought into our philosophy. It is so gratifying the win all those people. I’m humble because our school believed in the formula and we have succeeded.”

The Tigers concluded at 39-3 and won its third postseason tournament title. The GEICO Nationals is the only one that counts. GEICO gathered the top-4 teams in the nation with the winner getting all the booty. Yes, New Hope is the best of the best.

There is no debate, only celebrations for the Maryland private school.

New Hope clinched the National Championship by outscoring St. John’s, a team they scrimmaged back in November, during a 15-2 run in the fourth quarter. Trailing 32-30, the Tigers just poured it on and when Kylie Kornegay-Lucas scored with 4:24 left in the game, there was no turning back at 34-32.

Delicia Pinnick topped the Tigers with 13 points and Lucas-Kornegay had 11. Sophomore Jada Walker collected nine points, five rebounds and four assists and tabbed tournament Most Valuable Player.

“Since the beginning of the season we’ve bonded as sisters,” Walker said. “We did not have team chemistry in the beginning because we were a new team.”

And now they are champions.

St. John’s (36-2), which won a third straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title in March, scored two points in the final six minutes and the grind of two games in less than 24 hours, following a month long layoff, was evident.

Sophomore Azzi Fudd, who was named Gatorade’s national player of the year, was limited to 14 points on 5 of 19 shooting, including all six misses from three-point land. Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo and Carly Rivera added six apiece. The Cadets were a woeful 12 of 40 from the floor for 30%.

“We executed today and our team had the right mix,” Caldwell said.

New Hope forged the second tie of the second half when Delicia Pinnick sank two free throws at 5:21 and regained the lead just 32 seconds later when Kylie Kornegay-Lucas scored.

The picked up in the third quarter as the teams combined for 33 points. SJC held a 20-13 advantage as Fudd scored 10 points. SJC were up 32-30 with the dramatic fourth quarter left.

Finally the game had life. Fudd nailed four free throws and Rivera, the hard working point guard, drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing at 3:49 of the third quarter to pull the Cadets within two points at 23-21.

The second tie of the game and first since early in the second quarter occurred when Cowan sank two free throws and then Kelis Corley scored in transition and Rivera hit her second three in less than a 1 1/2 minutes.

It wasn’t a pretty opening half as the scoreline read 29 points—that’s total between two of the nation’s best teams. Friday’s semifinals were physical and the wear and tear took its toll.

New Hope led 17-12 at the break.

Fudd, who scored 27 points in the semifinals versus Centennial (Las Vegas, Nev.) netted two points and that wing 17-footer did not occur until 27 seconds left in the second quarter. Thshitenge-Mutombo had four points and Fudd was active on the glass with nine rebounds.

Pinnick netted five points for the Tigers, including a 3-pointer at 4:34 of the first period.

Ten points were totaled in the opening eight minutes. Suffice; it took time for the game to find a rhythm.

About the most notable storyline of the opening four minute was Fudd picked up two quick personal fouls and New Hope led 6-4. Both teams were scoreless the rest of the period.

Joining New Hope’s Walker on the all-tournament team were Fudd and Tshitenge-Mutombo of St. John’s, and Jennifer Ezeh and Kornegay-Lucas of New Hope.

“Congratulations to New Hope; they played a great game today,” SJC coach Jonathan Scribner said afterwards.

Boys Semifinals Game 2 – La Lumiere (Ind.) vs Oak Hill (Va.)

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.

Boys Semifinals Game 1 – IMG (Fla.) vs Montverde (Fla.)

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – IMG Academy of Bradenton, Florida just entered uncharted waters: The nascent program is one win from a National Championship.

It came out of nowhere Friday afternoon. Actually, it was a stunner considering the opponent and the circumstances.

First, the scene and the situation. Defending champion Montverde (Fla.) Academy was cruising and led by 16 points at the start of the fourth quarter. It should not stun anyone but again the opponent was nationally ranked and now cross state rivals IMG.

There is something to be said about a team that is steadfast when staring into the abyss of elimination. For IMG it was just the beginning and the result was justified after a fast and furious fourth quarter that saw IMG rally to beat Montverde, 74-73, in the GEICO High School Nationals semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

The fourth quarter was a doozy. The score was tied four times and IMG even missed three free throws in the final 44 seconds adding to the script. However, the game was about to tilt.

Montverde led 73-72 and just missed a shot with less than 10 seconds remaining and the shot clock ready to bleed dry. IMG rebounded and the sequence of the tournament was ready to unravel.

That’s when Jeremiah Robinson-Earl leaked out on the miss and ensuing IMG defensive rebound. The Villanova-bound forward streaked ahead of the pack, gathered the outlet pass and hammered down a crushing slam-dunk for the ages, and the game’s final points.

But wait there’s more drama.

Montverde appeared to won it with long inbounds pass and dunk at the other end, but coach Kevin Boyle called a timeout nullifying the apparent game-winning deuce. Montverde fans rejoiced briefly but realized they still trailed.

Ouch!

But Montverde’s final began at 4.9 second left and wound up in the hands of senior guard Harlond Beverly, who misfired from the left wing. IMG’s win was legitimate and is a signature moment in the program’s young history.

The Ascenders (29-1) play fourth-seeded Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) or top-seeded La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) in the GEICO Nationals final on Saturday at 12 p.m. EDT on ESPN. The game is preceded by the girls’ final between St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.) and New Hope Academy (Landover Hills, Md.) at 10 a.m. on ESPN 2.

Second-seeded Montverde ended 22-2 with Boyle looking for the program’s fifth GEICO Nationals’ championship.

IMG leaned on three players that accounted for 54 of its 74 points. Arizona-bound Josh Green, a native of Australia, flipped in 12 points; 6-3 junior Jaden Springer had a game-high 23 point, making all 12 free throws and Robinson-Earl added 16 points and snared nine rebounds. North Carolina-bound Armando Bacot, one of three McDonald’s All Americans from IMG, collected eight points and seven rebounds.

Key statistics: Montverde 19 turnovers; IMG had 14. IMG was crushed on the glass, 32-23, but it didn’t matter on Friday.

Despite losing the lead in the fourth, the Eagles were unfazed.

Cade Cunningham (21 points) was money in the final two minute, reeling off baskets on three straight possessions as the Eagles went up 73-71 with less than a minute to go.

Montverde was milking a 16-point lead at the onset of the final quarter but IMG roared back with a 17-1 run that produced a 64-all tie on Jaden Springers twisting reverse layup with 3:40 left. Balsa Koprivica, a Florida State recruit from Serbia, answered for Montverde only 11 seconds later to regain the lead to a short jumper in the lane.

Cunningham helped keep the Eagles with their foot squarely on the Ascenders by draining a transition three-point field goal to end the third quarter for a 16-point bulge at 63-47. Beverly scored nine points in the third, pushing his total to 22.

Beverly’s three-point play with 1:09 left in the third came under heavy pressure in the lane. With three IMG defenders drawing close, Beverly leaned in, flipping his shot over out-stretched arms. Simply magnificent! It was also backbreaking for IMG, which had pulled within seven points.

After IMG chipped away at the first-half lead, the Eagles opened the third quarter with a snappy 9-2 run. Springer interrupted Montverde’s run with 6:21 left to make it 42-29.

Robinson-Earl stepped out and drained a 3-pointer to cut into Montverde’s lead with 4:17 left.

In the first half, more so the first quarter, IMG looked overmatched and Montverde was the confident, driven bunch after taking a surprising 25-8 lead.

By the second period, the Ascenders climbed back into the contest with a 19-10 showing and it was reduced to 35-27 by the intermission.

Springer and Green each tossed in eight points and Robinson-Earl added six for IMG during the initial 16 minutes.

For the game, Montverde’s Beverly, a 6-5 uncommitted senior, scored 23 points, sinking 8 of 16 shots, with three rebounds and three assists. Koprivica added 10 points and five boards while Moses Moody had nine points and four assists. The Eagles connected on 27 o 56 shots for 48.2%.

girls semifinals Game 2 – Centennial (NV) (61) vs St. John’s (DC)

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – When in doubt lean on Azzi Fudd.

If you didn’t that would have been a shame because when the nation’s top schoolgirl is in your lineup that’s your go-to player with the game and more on the line.

Fudd, the 5-11 All-American, was the given the chance to win it for St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.) Friday afternoon with the score tied at 61. Once Fudd took the inbounds pass, she was bumped with 8.3 seconds. Calmly, coolly she drilled both free throws but the Cadets weren’t off the hook.

SJC needed all the help on the final play when Melanie Isbell launched a three-point field goal attempt from the right wing. The Centennial (Las Vegas, Nev.) sophomore guard had a clean look and it was on line for the winner.

“Honestly I thought it was going in,” SJC coach Jonathan Scribner said afterwards.

The ball bit hard on the right side of the iron and the second-seeded Cadets lustily celebrated and breathed a sigh of relief, surviving that challenge from Centennial in a 63-61 pulse-thickening win in the semifinals of the GEICO High School Nationals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

With the victory, SJC (36-1) plays fourth-seeded New Hope Academy (Landover Hills, Md.) for the GEICO Nationals girls’ championship Saturday morning at 10 a.m. EDT on ESPN2. Both programs will be looking for their first national championship. The loaded bracket feature the nation’s top-4 teams with a true champion to be crowned.

Centennial, the five-time Nevada Class 4A state champions, finished 31-2. This was the first year the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association allowed teams to participate at the GEICO Nationals.

It was a heckuva performance.

It will be an all-DMV final—acronym for District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia—with the national title up for grabs. It’s must-see TV; think of it as bagels and basketball on Saturday morning. It’s surely a game for the ages.

“The DMV some of the best players in the nation; all of the best players are athletes. I think the WCAC [Washington Catholic Athletic Conference] is the best in the nation for girls’ high school basketball. It will be a great game for the DMV.”

Fudd was the star of stars this afternoon, bucketing a game-high 27 points while collecting six rebounds and three assists. She made 8 of 17 shots and was effective at the foul line hitting 8 of 10. Wagner-bound Alex Cowan scored 18 points, clicking on all four three-point attempts.

“Our program stresses defense and mental toughness; that was the difference today,” Cowan said.

When the game was still in the balance, SJC rose and Centennial fell short by three inches on the potential game winning three-pointer.

The initial three quarters were merely a prelude for the fantastic finish.

Centennial surrendered the lead in the third and regained it with 2:37 left when Deajah Phillips nailed a three-point field goal for a 58-57 lead.

If SJC appeared at ease in the opening eight minutes, the next stretch was marked by Centennial showing the athleticism and depth.

It took nearly 15 minutes of the opening half but the lady Bulldogs were determined to catch the Cadets and did with 68 seconds left.

It became apparent that Centennial’s main focus was limiting Fudd’s touches and use their deep bench to wear down the Cadets. In the third quarter that was holding true to form when Eboni Walker’s basket made it a 10-point gap at 41-31, at 5:37.

“I’m nervous before every game until I get in the flow of play,” Fudd said.

SJC finally tallied in the third quarter after 2 ½ minutes and then went on a 10-2 tear to made it 43-41 with three minutes to go. Cowan’s long 3-pointer off an assist from Fudd brought the Cadets within two. Fudd evened the game at 43 a minute later.

But SJC, which has been through the battles of a long season in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, did not wilt. Cowan and Fudd made sure of it.

With 1:25 left Cowan dropped in a 3-pointer and Fudd hit a delicate pull-up jumper from 12 feet to make it 48-43. Centennial’s Walker and Amanda Phoumiphat added baskets in the final 47 seconds to reduce the deficit to 48-47 through three.

That’s when Phillips converted a traditional three-point play, giving the Nevada powerhouse a 30-29 lead—their first of the contest.

Centennial charged into the break when Quinece Hatcher drilled a 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer for a 35-31 lead. Hatcher’s bomb from the right side blew the roof off the packed gym and gave the Nevadans a jolt for the final 16 minutes.

Phillips had seven points and three boards by the intermission; Taylor Bigby scored nine points (4 of 8 shooting) and Walker carried the scoring load with 10 and ripped down five rebounds.

Fudd totaled 13 points in the opening half, but connected on only 4 of 10 shots, including two three balls. Cowan added nine and made both shots from downtown. SJC was plagued by nine turnovers.

SJC played like a national championship contender in the first quarter and maintained a comfortable 20-14 lead. Fudd showed why she was recently named the Gatorade National Player of the Year, as an all-everything, transformative player each time she touched the ball.

Fudd, a sophomore, was clicking from the perimeter, defending and setting up her teammates. Centennial was unfazed and stayed the course.

“I’m always trying make the good play whether it’s scoring or drawing in defenders so I can pass to another teammate. Today was a sloppy game. We haven’t played in over a month but we’re ready for the final,” Fudd said.

Walker, an Arizona State signee, scored a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in her final prep game and Phillips added 15 points and five rebounds.

SJC was indeed sloppy and on the short end of the turnover tally at 18-14 but the scoreboard was the ultimate measure of the game.

Girls Semifinals Game 1 – New Hope (MD) vs Miami Country Day (FL)

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – Ask Sam Caldwell about the significance of buying into team defense.

“We have players with skill sets at both ends of the floor; you have to buy into defense if you want to win championships. The girls and our coaches take a lot of pride in the defense. No one walks in practice and everyone is diving for lose balls. It’s a team mindset,” said Caldwell, the girls’ coach at New Hope Academy (Landover Hills, Md.)

And with that the nation’s No. 1 team and top seed here lost for only the second time this season. Top-ranked Miami (Fla.) Country Day fell victim to a suffocating defense and were on the downside of a 14-5 spree in the third quarter on Friday afternoon.

Final: New Hope Academy 60, Miami Country Day 52 in GEICO High School Nationals girls’ semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

“We don’t want anyone in the paint,” Jada Walker said of New Hope’s defensive stance. “We wanted to play Miami [Country Day] and try to beat them this time.”

MCD beat New Hope Academy, 61-60, in overtime at the Nike Tournament of Champions semifinals in December. MCD won the TOC and had their win streak snapped at 22 games.

So, New Hope Academy aims for its first-ever GEICO Nationals title and will meet second-seeded St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.) or Centennial (Las Vegas, Nev.) Saturday at 10 a.m. EDT on ESPN2. Caldwell, who guided Riverdale Baptist School (Upper Marlboro, Md.) to a pair of GEICO Nationals’ crowns, is going for the coaching trifecta.

New Hope did not let in the third quarter. After four minutes it was 41-34 and MCD looked doomed. MCD’s offense dried up and the offensive flow was cut off with the on-ball defense.

MCD closed the campaign at 26-2 and was denied a third GEICO Nationals crown. The Spartans (26-2) won a sixth straight Florida state championship in February.

Just when it appeared the Tigers would run away in the fourth quarter, MCD staged a rally, slicing the deficit to eight points at 51-43. New Hope carried a 13-point lead in to the final stanza and when Jada Walker knocked down a perimeter jumper it was 49-34 with 3:13 left.

A 9-2 run over 180 seconds gave MCD hope. Junior Milani McCormack swished a corner three-ball and suddenly it was 51-46.

Any prospects of an MCD comeback were dashed with 1:27 as Ezeh converted an offensive rebound for a 56-48 edge. Senior Jennifer Ezeh finished with 12 points and four rebounds.

Sophomore guard Jada Walker topped the Tigers with 14 points, including three 3-pointers, Kyle Kornegay-Lucas added 12 (10 of 18 on free throws), seven rebounds and five assists, while Demi Washington scored 10 and pulled down 10 boards.

The Tigers made 20 of 32 free throws and maintained a 30-20 rebounding edge.

South Florida-bound Maria Alvarez, who has played on the team since seventh grade and has six state and two national championship titles on her dossier, did not score from the field but accumulated seven made free throws for her points. Alvarez was saddled with early foul trouble.

“It’s a tough loss for me personally; I’ve played here at Miami Country Day since seventh grade,” she said. “Today they were more aggressive than us and played harder.”

Koi Love, a Vanderbilt recruit, pumped in a game-high 21 points and snatched 11 rebounds.

“New Hope [Academy] got up and down the floor and were confident especially when Maria [Alvarez] was out with fouls,” Love said.

Midway through the second quarter, MCD held a 25-21 advantage and began looking inside to their 6-9 post Chantell Gonzalez, who entered the score sheet and was a intimidating presence.

New Hope finally took the lead at 2:50 with a flurry of five points in five seconds. The Duke-bound Ezeh swished a three and on the inbounds, Kornegay-Lucas made a steal and quick deuce to made it 28-27.

New Hope closed the half on a 5-1 run, capped by Walker’s transition 3-pointer with 2 seconds left. MCD, the nation’s top-ranked team was outpointed 19-10 in the period. MCD was sloppy with the ball, committing 12 turnovers with New Hope’s pesky fullcourt pressure the demon. MCD misfired from distance, making just 30% of threes (3 of 10).

Theodule Emani was MCD’s primary long-ball threat with three 3s for nine points and Love scored 14 with seven rebounds. New Hope spread the wealth with seven players scoring, led by the Virginia-commit Kornegay-Lucas (eight points) and Walker (seven) in the first 16 minutes.

MCD came out shooting in the first quarter and stretching the New Hope defense. The Spartans nailed 3 of 6 shots from three-point land en route to a 19-14 edge. Love did the most damage with eight points.

New Hope kept up with the Spartans when the game was on the verge of slipping away. A quick burst of points in the final two minutes was keyed by Walker and balanced scoring from four players.

“When you come to this event you never have an easy game and we’re only looking to schedule the best,” MCD coach Ochiel Swaby said. “We didn’t show up today and were outplayed and with Maria Alvarez out of the game the others did not step up. Give credit to our opponent [New Hope], they played with more desire and were more physical today.”

Boys quarterfinals Game 4 – Wasatch (Utah) vs Oak Hill (Va.)

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – It was a Homecoming for two players on Thursday. For those who follow the ultra-competitive New York High School Catholic Athletic Association (a.k.a. the New York City Catholic League), two players stood out: Cole Anthony and Kofi Cockburn.

Just last year, both were tearing up the Class AA Brooklyn-Queen Division. Cockburn was back in his home gym and Anthony, who was the Most Valuable Player at the McDonald’s All-American Game last week in Atlanta, was the visiting menace from rival Archbishop Molloy (Briarwood).

So much history and so much talent. Cole is the jet-like point guard whose father played in the NBA and won an NCAA National Championship ring in 1990 at UNLV. Cockburn verballed to Illinois and left Christ the King (Middle Village) for a chance to play a nationally-seasoned schedule at Oak Hill in rural southwestern Virginia.

It was Anthony that made sure the Warriors moved on during a 79-72 victory over fifth-seeded Wasatch Academy (Mount Pleasant, Utah) in the quarterfinals of the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

Anthony stepped up with a game-high 30 points, connecting on 11 of 20 shots and four three-point field goals and snatched 11 rebounds. Cameron Thomas added 16 and Georgia-bound Christian Brown had 12 (two 3s).

So, the semifinals are set and they are mouthwatering matchups on Friday afternoon. In the first game, a pair of Florida powerhouses, Montverde Academy and IMG Academy (Bradenton), meet at 3 p.m. EDT. That’s followed by top-seeded La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) and Oak Hill Academy at 5 p.m.

All four top seeds in the eight-team bracket advanced to the semifinals, which boils it down to the best of the best that schoolboy basketball has to offer.

Yet the final game of the day was no cakewalk for Oak Hill and coach Steve Smith, who was worried the team chemistry would suffer after a month-long layoff.

Anthony picked his spots and just over a minute into the fourth, he drained an NBA-distance 3-pointer and stretch OHA’s lead to 64-55. Wasatch’s Caleb Lohner poleaxed a dunk to draw his team to 66-60 with 5 ½ minutes to go.

Anthony then converted a three-point play when the Tigers were clawing back with less than five minutes left. Three times the Tiger were within three points in the waning minutes but Anthony finally put away Utah private school with a pair of free throws with 23.7 seconds left to make it 77-72. Dylan Cardwell sealed it with two more free throws at 14.5 seconds.

Entering the fourth quarter the Warriors (37-4) clung to a four-point advantage, 57-53, but it was anybody’s game. Cockburn woke up in the third and displayed some deft moves are the rim and a soft touch. Wasatch’s 6-10 Mady Sissoko scored five points but was frequently on the bench with foul trouble.

Cockburn was more aggressive over the final 16 minutes and finished with 13 points (6 of 14 shooting) and eight rebounds.

The Warriors did not shoot particularly well, making only 28 of 69 shots for 40.6%. Both teams were even from beyond the arc, going 7 of 15.

Oak Hill carried a six-point lead into halftime at 43-37. The Warriors shot the ball from beyond the arc with efficiency, hitting 5 of 9 shots, Anthony, the team’s leader scorer, was playing in front of family and friends and scored 14 points (on 6 of 10 shooting). Brown added 11.

Mike Saunders started heating up in the second. With the Warriors on the verge of blowing open the contest in the first two minutes, the Wasatch junior guard tallied eight straight points, including two catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and the Tigers were within one at 29-28. OHA closed the half on a 14-8 run, Saunders paced the way with eight points and Richie Saunders (no relation to Richie Saunders) also had eight.

In an entertaining first quarter, the Warriors pushed the ball and grabbed a 19-14 lead. Anthony pleased his hometown fans with nine points, hitting 4 of 5 shots in the opening frame. The Warriors buried 3 of 4 shots from three.

Lohner (six points) and Richie Saunders (eight) combined to score 14 points in the first and the Tigers were 7 of 16 from the floor.

Regardless of the results, first-year Wasatch’s David Evans became the first head coach to lead two schools in the GEICO Nationals. Last year, Evans coached Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Montverde.

Mike Saunders topped the Tigers with 22 points, making 7 of 10 shots, Tre Marvin and Richie Saunders both hit for 10 points. Lohner added 15 points, draining 3 of 4 from downtown and grabbed four rebounds. Lohner showed stretches of fine play and is only a junior.

Wasatch concluded 26-4 but return a solid core that should have them back in the running for another trip to the GEICO Nationals.

Boys quarterfinals Game 3 – Bishop Gorman (Nev.) vs La Lumiere (Ind.)

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.

BOYS QUARTERFINALS GAME 2 – NSU Univ. School vs Montverde (Fla.)

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.

Boys Quarterfinals GAME 1- IMG (Fla.) vs. Sunrise Christian (KS)

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – Two years ago IMG Academy of Bradenton, Florida came to the GEICO High School Nationals with an air of confidence as a tournament debutant. They came out flat and lost.

Fast-forward to Thursday afternoon and the Ascenders were different team, featuring three McDonald’s All Americans and a coaching change.

What a difference 723 days makes.

Those super-sized trio of All Americans were an inside presence but the junior duo of Jaden Springer and Noah Farrakhan were more than a handful, combining to score 45 points, and third-seeded IMG buried sixth-seeded Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.), 65-50, Thursday in the opening quarterfinal game at the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals in Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

Sunrise Christian concluded its season at 22-6.

The Ascenders (27-1 overall) advanced to the semifinals and will play the winner of second-seeded and defending champions Montverde (Fla.) Academy and seventh-seeded University (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Friday at 2 p.m. EDT.

The offensive output by the IMG guard tandem accounted for three-quarters of their offense. Farrakhan struck for 19 points, clicking on 3 of 5 shots from three-point range, and added two assists and two rebounds. Meanwhile, the 6-3 Springer, a whippet in transition, dropped in a game-high 26 points, making 11 of 14 shots from the floor and two 3-pointers, while dishing out four assists and grabbing two rebounds.

Armando Bacot, one of the McDonald’s selections and headed to North Carolina in the fall, scored eight points but added 10 rebounds and more importantly protected the rim and for the most part silenced Sunrise’s 7-footer N’Faly Dante, who wound up with eight points and eight boards—well below his

IMG needed to hold off the Buffaloes, who won 22 games and had a sold regular season résumé, and at the onset of the final quarter it was the backcourt that ran roughshod.

Farrakhan bucketed three successive baskets, including a 3-pointer, and the lead zoomed to 57-44. Finally the Ascenders had finally extracted that painful memory from the 2017 GEICO Nationals.

IMG picked up in the third quarter were they left off in the second and built a 10-point bulge, 47-37. The Ascenders turned up the defense, which gave them easy transition layups and dunks. IMG was up 19 points midway through the third, 42-23, when the Buffaloes charged back into it as Jalyn Turner’s three-ball from the left wing reduced the deficit under double-digits at 45-37. Bryce Cook’s twisting layup, ducking under two Sunrise defenders with 6.5 second to go gave the Floridians that 10-point advantage.

The Ascenders were refreshed in the initial 67 seconds of the third quarter as the Villanova-bound center Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (eight points, five rebounds) had back-to-back slam dunks and Farrakhan’s long three-point field goal bumped to edge to 15 points at 38-23.

IMG made it 40-23 at 4:55 of the third on Springer’s breakaway dunk and the IMG faithful were delirious.

After a slow start, IMG led 31-23 at the break. Springer scored 12 points to fuel the attack.

The Ascenders were up by as many as 11 points early in the second quarter as Sunrise had the upper hand in the early going. Sunrise’s Grant Sheffield buried four free throws in the final 2:22 of the half to pull his team within eight points at 29-21. Sheffield finished with a team-high 13 points.

With 44 seconds left in the half, Farrakhan canned two free throws to close out the scoring for the opening 16 minutes.

Jarace Walker’s unreserved dunk in transition capped an 11-0 spurt that bridged two quarters 5:40 of the second. Dante’s putback slam at the rim quelled the run of points on the next possession to trim IMG’s lead to 24-15.

Sunrise did not look like the GEICO debutant in the opening four minutes and led 11-8 as Dante buried a pair of 3-pointers. The Buffaloes were setting up on the right wing in an attempt to counter IMG’s post presence.

Yet it was IMG, which took a 15-13 lead after one quarter using defense and a 3-pointer in the final seconds. Bryce Cook was called for traveling with 4.5 seconds left after a strong defensive stance in the paint. That allowed Springer to gather the ensuing inbounds pass, race up the floor unfettered and drain a trey from the top of the key.

IMG’s defense was stellar, holding
Sunrise 19 of 42 from the floor and only 6 of 19 from downtown for 31.5%. IMG found its rhythm in the second quarter and went on to shoot 27 of 47 for 57.4%. IMG held a slight edge on the boards at 27-25. Jordan Turner added eight points for Sunrise.