By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – Montverde (Fla.) Academy is 32 minutes from history.
The Eagles need one more victory to complete the first undefeated campaign in coach Kevin Boyle’s storied dossier—hard to believe—and the fourth in program history.
Backed by three double-digits scorers and quick burst to open the game, Montverde crushed fourth-seeded Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), 71-53, in the GEICO High School Nationals semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
“We got off to a good start and Filip Petrusev did a lot of it,” Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said. “Filip shot the hell out of it and RJ now understands what it takes to be a great a player.”
Boyle’s club returns to the final after losing last year and could claim a fourth overall GEICO title in the last six years. Montverde is 3-1 in GEICO title tilts.
The undefeated Eagles will play third-seeded University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) for the GEICO Nationals crown on Saturday at 12 p.m. EDT on ESPN. It is University’s initial appearance in the national final while Montverde is making its fifth in 10 years. Montverde captured three-consecutive GEICO titles from 2013-15 with former national player of the year Ben Simmons (now with the Philadelphia 76ers) at the controls.
Saturday’s final means an all-Florida final to determine the GEICO champion, but more importantly the overall national champion. Montverde is the nation’s consensus No. 1 team but University will present plenty of problems.
“We’ll have some tough matchups with University; we have to play good defense,” Montverde forward Filip Petrusev said.
The Eagles (34-0) moved into the title Michael Devoe scored 11 points and Petrusev, a Gonzaga commit, struck for 21 points, sinking 5 of 6 3-pointers. Montverde shot the ball with consistency, hitting 28 of 63 but were more efficient from downtown, going 9 of 20 (45%). They also shared the ball with 20 assists.
At 7-1, Serbian Balsa Koprivica added more depth, contributing eight points, seen rebounds and rejected five shots.
“Balsa played better today,” Boyle said of his lanky junior. “Bol Bol might be the best big man in the country but Balsa was better. Balsa will be a top three or four lottery someday.”
The Duke-bound, unassuming Barrett finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, becoming the GEICO Nationals all-time leading scorer having played in three tournaments.
“We’ve been working hard for this the whole year,” Barrett said. “I want to win this tournament more than anything this year.”
Early in the third, Barrett awoke the crowd with a coast-to-coast slam-dunk and a 34-20 lead. Whenever the Pilots would creep back into contention, the Eagles answered back. This time there was no need for Barrett to skywalk to rim but teammates Petrusev and Andrew Nembhard pumped in three balls for the left and right wings, respectively. It was 46-29 at 3:57 and the Pilots were on the verge of elimination.
But not so fast because the Pilots made it 50-40 on Reggie Chaney’s putback dunk with 1:26 remaining in the third. Montverde took a 55-42 edge into the fourth as Barrett rammed home a Zhenlin Zhang miss at the buzzer.
Montverde could sense it was moving on and solved Findlay’s 3-2 zone.
The Pilots (34-5) could have reduced the halftime deficit under 10 points for the first time since three minutes into the contest but Chaney missed the front end of a 1 and 1 and Montverde still led 30-19. Petrusev was held scoreless in the quarter but Barrett had five of his eight in the period.
Edwards scored seven points and Bol Bol had three points, two blocks and two rebounds for the Pilots. Findlay’s 8-of-21 shooting (38.1%) contributed to the 11-point hole at the break
Following a day when the Eagles were fortunate to have won, they jumped to a quick 13-2 lead draining a trio of threes. Montverde eventually carried a 22-10 edge into the second Petrusev flipped in 12 points. Montverde held a 12-7 advantage on the boards. Findlay’s Edwards had six points but the shooting was subpar at 5 of 12 (41.7%).
For the game, Findlay’s Chaney scored 15 points (7-of-10 shooting efficiency) and seven rebounds and the 7-3 Bol, who headed to Oregon in the fall, closed out his prep career with 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Kyler Edwards finished with nine points, but shot only 3 of 17 from the floor.
“We were more focused tonight,” Boyle said.