By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – What could have been one of the largest upsets in the history of high basketball fell short on Thursday.
Top-seeded Montverde (Fla.) Academy can breathe easy now because of momentary lapse. It was a moment torn from the 1993 NCAA Final Four tableau when Michigan’s Chris Webber called a timeout when the Wolverines did not have any left. Eventually it was the turning point in a seesaw game with North Carolina.
Fast forward a quarter century and Cinderella’s glass shoe was mashed to a jillion pieces when eight-seeded Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) called a timeout with 19.8 seconds remaining in a tie game.
The result—bench technical foul on the Knights.
“I have 95 coaches on the bench,” Lone Peak coach David Evans said. “Ultimately it’s our fault the coaches but don’t allow that to overshadow a great game.”
Evans is right but the facts are cold and hard in this case. Montverde survived a white-knuckler 87-82 over the Knights in the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
The game was knotted at 82 after the Utahans made a historic comeback after trailing by more than 20 points throughout the second half. RJ Barrett, the national player of the year, then made one of two to make it 83-82. A foul by Lone Peak allowed Michael Devoe to can two more and Barrett added the finishing touches from the charity stripe.
Tough why to lose, right?
“I want to see them lose like that,” Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said, jokingly. “Lone Peak did a great job; they are a good disciplined team and well coached. That’s one of the best second half performances by a team that I’ve against one of my teams in 30 years of coaching.”
The undefeated Eagles moved into the semifinals for the second straight year to face fourth-seeded Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) on Friday at 5 p.m. EDT on ESPN2. It’s a matchup of similar teams that love to run, defend and showcase superior athletes.
The game had the markings of a blowout. The nation’s consensus No. 1 team versus a disciplined program with eight state titles in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains.
The threes started raining down in the closing minutes and the Knights inched closer to a stunner. Twice in the final 1:50 the Knights finally tied it and took a brief lead—only their second of the contest—at 82-81when Chantry Ross (20 points) drilled an NBA 3-pointer that blew the roof off the joint.
With 34.5 seconds left, the Duke-bound Barrett canned one of two free throw for a tie and then the unreal conclusion. Barrett was sensational with 33 points (15 of 20 free throws) and Andrew Nembhard added 16.
Utah State-bound Steven Ashworth netted all 29 points after the break, making 7 of 14 threes and Jackson Brinkerhoff had 11. Ashworth will postpone his collegiate career starting this July with a two-year LDS missionary in Indiana.
“We’re always letting people know that we belong; some teams will underestimate us,” Ashworth said.
Ashworth drained a pair of threes in the opening four minutes of the final period but the Knights trailed 75-69. They reduced the deficit to three points in the first minute but the resilient Eagles flexed their muscles with Barrett hitting two driving baskets.
At the four-minute media timeout, Barrett had 25 points and Ashworth 22. The crowd sensing an exciting finish was looking for a March Madness Cinderella story.
Strange things began to happen in the third quarter. First, Lone Peak decided to match Montverde basket for basket. Then Steven Ashworth, the team’s leading scoring and Utah State recruit, awoke from his first-half slumber. Ashworth dropped in 16 points, including four threes.
Chantry Ross’s 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds left in the third brought Lone Peak within 66-59 and pulled the fans into its corner. After the timeout, Nembhard broke down the defense, slithering in to give the Eagles a 68-59 advantage.
The Knights refused to cave, even when the Eagles, were ready to pounce and pour it on. When Max Brenchley nailed a 3-pointer with 1:20 left in the half, Lone Peak dropped the deficit to 11 points at 36-25. Montverde would take a 39-25 edge into halftime.
Barrett had 14 points and Andrew Nembhard added nine as Montverde received scoring from eight players. The Eagles were lethal in the paint, holding a 32-4 edge, including 12 in transition.
Eighth-seeded Lone Peak, reliant on the treys (5 of 11 for 45.5% in the second quarter), received eight points from Jaxon Pollard and six from Chantry Ross. Ashworth, who averaged more than 16 points per game and surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this term, was in unfamiliar territory without a point in the first half.
If Lone Peak was in awe, it did not show it in the first half. Twice in the second quarter, Boyle burned timeouts to pull his team together.
In the first quarter, the Eagles raced to a 21-8 lead. Barrett added another clip to his impressive highlight-reel career with a flying, one-handed dunk, making it 8-3. Barrett cocked the ball behind his back and rammed the orange globe through the cylinder. It was pure joy for the adoring crowd that oohed and in admiration.
Barrett totaled 11 points in the first, draining all five attempts. Lone Peak was only 3 of 16 from the floor but were victim of sticky man defense that Montverde unleashed.
Later in the game it was Montverde’s will to win that prevailed.