By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – It was all business for fourth-seeded Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) Thursday.
“We’re a senior loaded team,” said Findlay’s confident coach Paul Washington Sr. “Our seniors simply did not want to go home.”
Meanwhile La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) would not go down without a fight but it was a forgettable third-quarter showing that ultimately decided the game.
“We picked the wrong day to go 0 for 12 from three-point range,” Lakers first-year coach Patrick Holmes said.
Findlay used a 48-29 second-half scoring spree to overcome the Lakers, 66-54, in the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
After going 5-1 in the last two GEICO Nationals, the reigning champion La Lumiere finally met their match. In 2016, the Lakers (23-4) lost in the championship game on a tip-in at the buzzer and last year coasted to the title.
It was apparent from the opening tip that La Lumiere could not match Findlay point-for-point or overall athleticism but plucky play from the backcourt, hustle on the floor and super junior Isaiah Stewart kept them in contention.
Their dream of a repeat died suddenly in the third. For Findlay it was a matter of time before they wore down Holmes’ club.
The Pilots (32-4) advance to the semifinals on Friday against top-seeded Montverde (Fla.) Academy or eighth-seeded Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) at 5 p.m. EDT on ESPN2.
The game featured the defending champions and a program from Nevada that won it three times in the first four years of the event’s existence. Bol Bol, Findlay’s monster man, was a game-time decision (Achilles tendon injury). He admitted two days earlier while at the McDonald’s All-American Game—which he sat out—that his status was touch-and-go but the South Sudanese post started Thursday.
The Oregon-bound Bol finished with four points on 2 of 10 shooting but cleared 11 rebounds. His lack of play showed in the opening minutes.
“Bol was a little rusty but it was our job to pick him up,” said teammate Reggie Chaney, who is an Arkansas signee on a senior-laden Findlay squad.
Findlay regrouped at halftime and stormed to a 30-28—its first lead of the afternoon. Chaney’s back-to-back baskets, including a slam off a missed shots capped the quick 12-3 burst in the opening 4:13 of the second half.
After that Findlay never trailed again.
Kyler Edwards (23 points) swished a long 3-pointer from the corner and it was 37-30 with two minutes left in the third. Findlay dropped another weapon in the in the final 75 second of the period as 7-3 rail Connor Vanover (eight points), who did not score in three minutes of action in the first half, knocked down consecutive three balls and Nathan Mensah twisting drive beat the third-quarter buzzer to give the Pilots a commanding 45-33 edge.
“I finally found my rhythm in the third quarter,” Edwards said.
Said Washington: “We run plays for Connor’s three-point shots. I ask him to be patience and he’s done a great job and hit two big 3s today in the third.”
Findlay’s 27-8 surge in the third not only accounted for more points they scored in the first half but burst La Lumiere’s bubble. Findlay made 10 of 17 shots (58.8%) compared to 3 of 10 and six turnovers for the Lakers.
“This is a tough gym to play in,” Washington said. “I reminded our guys at halftime of our game goals and that our strength is going inside.”
The Lakers played like a team that wanted it more in the opening half. They settled for a seven-point advantage, 25-18. It was senior Paxson Wojcik’s off-balance, 17-footer at the buzzer that brought his teammates racing onto the floor and into the dressing room for intermission.
Edwards topped the Pilots with eight points and Chaney had six at the break. Findlay’s frigid 8 of 29 shooting (27.6%) with Bol missing all seven shots from the field.
Stewart had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers and Campbell added five and four assists. The Lakers were up 20-19 in the rebounding battle, scoring 20 of 25 points in the paint.
Stewart, the No. 13-rated player by ESPN in the junior class, wound up with 23 points (11 of 19 accuracy from the floor) and a game-high 14 rebounds. The Rochester, N.Y. native still has a year remaining and is considered a shoo-in for the 2018 McDonald’s Game.
“Coming here this year was great for my game; I’m looking forward to next year already,” Stewart said.
“They were doubled Isaiah and he did a great job overcoming it,” Holmes said.
Senior Tyger Campbell, the courageous point guard headed to UCLA in the fall, had 10 points, six assists and four steals, playing steady in his final prep game.
“It’s a great experience coming to Christ the King every year. We train each day to make it here,” Campbell said.
The Pilots had a chance to slice the deficit to four points by the break but a long rebound with 3 seconds left in the half, an outlet pass to Wojcik and a left-handed heave from the left wing.
Findlay pecked away in the second quarter and reduced it to 17-12 at 3:39. Stewart answered a minute later with a rim-rattling dunk off a perfectly executed inbounds lob to the rim and a 19-14 lead.
The Lakers came out fighting and carried a 14-6 lead into the second quarter. Things got heated late in the first following a La Lumiere slam-dunk as the bench was assessed a technical foul for chirping too loud.
“Down 14-6 is nothing new to us,” Washington added. “If you are familiar with our schedule we’ve been in these situations before; it was just another quarter for us.”