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.