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.