By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – It figures the most talented player in the junior class had the last say Thursday afternoon.
Vernon Carey Jr., the 6 feet 10 man-child had rocked the rim with 1 minute, 14 seconds left and nothing to prove. Carey attacked the iron with a vengeance and hung on for dear life.
For his efforts: a technical foul.
So what because third-seeded University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) advanced and in a one-and-done event to play another day. Carey finished with 20 points and ripped seven rebounds as the Sharks downed sixth-seeded Shadow Mountain (Phoenix), 75-63, in the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
The Sharks (34-1) will play fourth-seeded No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) or No. 7 Garfield (Seattle) Friday at 3 p.m. EDT on ESPN2. It was the second straight year that Shadow Mountain dropped out of the GEICO Nationals in the first round. The Matadors dipped to 25-2 overall and concluded the campaign with a fourth state title in five years.
Carey showed why he is one of the nation’s most recruited pivots making 9 of 10 shots and dishing out three assists from the high post and wing. The Sharks made 50% of their shots (29 of 58) and outscored their opponents, 22-15, on the break and 18-9 on second chances.
Shadow Mountain, which is build on pressure defense and four guards, netted 21 points off turnovers but did not have the muscle to stay with Carey’s interior game.
Jovan Blacksher tossed in 20 points in the loss, sinking 8 of 16 shots, and teammate Immanuel Allen had 19 points and six rebounds.
Both teams won state championship nearly a month ago but the lack of play was not evident in the early going.
And heading into the fourth quarter, the packed gym agreed. University led 50-46 as New Mexico-bound Drue Drinnon (nine points, six assists) pumped in four straight free throws. The Matadors tied the game at 44 and took their first lead at 43-42 with 3:45 left in the third when Blacksher wowed the building with a yo-yo dribble drive and completed the traditional three-point play.
Carey, the No. 2 prospect in the ESPN 60 rankings for the Class of 2019, gave his team a 34-30 halftime score, dropping in a turnaround jumper with 3 seconds left. He scored 11 points and grabbed three boards as the Sharks connected on 15 of 29 shots (46.7%).
Allen’s 11 points and Blacksher’s six paced Shadow Mountain, which had only six steals and shot 12 of 28 (38.5%) in the opening half.
University’s height advantage provided a 19-11 edge on the boards.
Prior to that Shadow Mountain fought back from 13-down, forging a tie at 30 on a Jalen Williams basket with 68 seconds to go.
Just when the Matadors appeared headed for long, dismal day, their defense awoke and so did the offense. Trailing by 13 points early in the second quarter, the Arizonans chipped away with a quick 13-6 burst capped by Immanuel Allen’s thunderous dunk in traffic. University took a 26-13 lead in the second but Shadow Mountain’s signature pressure defense enabled the comeback.
The smaller Matadors triggered their run with quick guards attacking the rim and out-hustling the Sharks on the offensive glass.
The Florida Class 5A state champions closed the opening eight minutes with an 8-2 spree for a 20-11 edge. There were 13 total turnovers but the Sharks were up 10-4 in fast-break points.
Carey gave the New York hoop junkies a taste of his up-and-down-the-court game midway through the first quarter with a crowd-pleasing, one-handed jam from the left wing and a 12-9 lead.
As customary, the Matadors were pressing from the opening tap. The constant motion of swirling arms forced traps and the points followed. Shadow Mountain entered the game averaging nearly 20 steals per game. They finished with only nine for the game.
Junior guard Jaelen House, who verballed to Arizona State, had a rough day from the floor going 2 of 13 from the floor and misfiring on all seven shots from three-point land but wound up with 12 points and three rebounds.
The Matadors shot only 22 of 57 for 38.6%.
Sophomore forward Scottie Barnes, a major recruit, totaled a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. He added a slam dunk in the fourth quarter when University pulled away an 8-0 run after leading 50-46 after three.