MIDDLE VILLAGE, NY - After a marathon day of quarterfinals four teams battled Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament semifinals at Christ the King H.S. on Friday for the right to compete at Madison Square Garden in Saturday's championship.
Oak Hill (VA) Holds Off Findlay Prep (NV), 64-56
When both Oak Hill Academy and Findlay Prep picked upset wins in the quarterfinals, it set up a dream matchup between the two top schools in the semifinals.
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After a sluggish start to the game that saw both teams struggle to finish offensively, it was senior wing Kelly Oubre who stepped up with 14 second quarter to see the Pilots take the lead, but it was the Oak Hill defense that stepped up and really changed the momentum, outscoring Findlay 20-9 in the 3rd to take the lead, and limiting Oubre in a big way to eventually take the victory.
The start was something that left a lot to be desired for both schools with both teams shooting under 30% early on, and Pilots senior forward Craig Victor was sent to the bench with a pair of early fouls. Oak Hill though wasn't able to take big enough advantage with senior Caleb Martin being the only scorer for the Warriors that was on track early on, and Martin knew that being maybe a player that flies under the radar was helping him in the early going.
"They talk a lot and I don't think they were respecting me, maybe because they didn't know me as well, but I was able to hit some shots and keep the team in the game," Martin said.
Oubre though really picked up his game in the 2nd quarter for Findlay as he knocked down three 3's, and was able to slash his way inside, using his supreme athleticism to make his way to the basket, as he himself outscored Oak Hill 14-8 in the 2nd to see the Pilots take a 30-20 lead at the half.
"I was feeling it there," Oubre said. "I was in a good rhythm and I felt good about where we were at the half."
Oak Hill Head Coach Steve Smith went into the half and challenged his team to dig down deep and find an extra motor, he knew that any less and this would be the last 16 minutes of the season, so he told his team to break it down.
"I said let's make it 4 four minute quarters. Let's win all 4 of those quarters, because if we could do that, I felt good about our chances," Smith said.
The Warriors also decided to switch into a diamond 1-3-1 zone, adding more pressure than they showed in the opening half, and with Findlay without the services of usual starting point guard Derryck Thornton, that ended up being a major difference.
Led by Caleb and his twin brother Cody Martin, along with guard Terrence Phillips, the zone was working to perfection. Findlay had just 5 first half turnovers, but had 9 in the 3rd quarter as they just couldn't handle the ball, something Smith felt was a big part of the Oak Hill comeback.
"It was what I call out 41 press, and they were really shaky against it, and for a 2 and a half minute stretch they seemed really discombobulated, and we were fortunate enough to take advantage," Smith admitted.
Smith said that even he didn't believe they would be able to make up so much ground so quickly, but with Oubre being held scoreless in the quarter, and senior guard Rashad Vaughn struggling to get any rhythm, the Warriors clawed back to take a two point lead after 3.
It was evident to see the fatigue in the eyes of many of the Findlay players, especially Oubre, who was playing his 3rd game in 3 nights counting the McDonald's All-American game on Wednesday, and Pilots coach Jerome "Junk Yard Dog" Williams even said performing at a high level that often is extremely tough, regardless of how good you may be.
"It's hell to play three games in a row, especially when you have to play against great players each night," Williams explained. "I did it in the NBA, but that was only in a lockout shortened year. It's near impossible."
Oubre though said he was not happy with his performance and felt his 3rd quarter, and 2nd half in general, was not up to his standards.
Oak Hill was primarily face guarding Oubre, not letting him touch the ball, with Martin being the one who really shut him down, holding him to just 3 free throws in the 2nd half. It was still a tight game, but the Warriors were able to nail FT after FT down the stretch, with Shelton Mitchell being the man late, and Smith noting that if he needs FT's late, Mitchell is surely his man.
"If we shoot FT's in practice, Shelton makes at least 95 out of 100, he is that good, almost automatic, so I would've denied him more, but we were happy he was the one going to the line late because once he starts making them, he's gonna make them."
Renathan Ona Embo hit a wing three late for Findlay Prep to cut it to a 5 point game, but it wasn't enough as Oak Hill was just too good from the line, going 10 of 11 down the stretch, to grab the win, and advance to Saturday's championship game at Madison Square Garden, 64-56.
Cody Martin led the Warriors with 22 points, while his brother Caleb and Mitchell each added 13.
For Findlay Prep, it was Oubre who had 22, though 19 came in the opening half, with Victor adding 11, and Vaughn being held to just 8 on 4 of 16 shooting.
Williams commended Oak Hill on a fantastic game afterwards, noting that Smith is a master of adjustments and did what he had to do to pull it out, while Smith was just as complementary of Williams, saying that this was easily one of their tougher games of the season.
"For sure, they are a great team and made us work every second of the game to earn this one."
Now it's onto the bright lights of MSG on Saturday afternoon, and it's a moment that Cody Martin is very much looking forward to.
"It's amazing, it's every kid's dream to come play in Madison Square Garden, it's a business trip, but at the same time it's definitely something we wanted, to play there, so now we get that chance, and now we just have to finish it with a championship."
Montverde Academy (FL) Surges Past Huntington Prep (WV), 56-51
With both junior forward's Thomas Bryant and Montaque Gill-Caesar in foul trouble early in the game for Huntington, the game could've been a blowout early on, but with neither playing at all in the 2nd quarter, they held Montverde Academy to just 2 points to take a 21-18 lead into the half, but with senior D'Angelo Russell, and junior Ben Simmons coming up big late, the #1 team in the country came back late for the 5 point victory to advance to the title game on Saturday.
Early on it seemed as if Montverde was going to pull away from an opponent for a 2nd straight day. Senior wing Justin Bibbs knocked down a couple first quarter threes from the corner and the Eagles were up by 6 after one, and with Huntington already in foul trouble, things did look bleak, but Huntington wasn't just going to roll over.
"We wanted to make them score in the half court," Huntington coach Rob Fulford said. "In the 2nd I thought we did a good job of that, not letting them get any transition points, and we made plays when we needed to make plays."
The biggest play was right before the halftime buzzer, senior forward Jalen Lindsey knocked down a three that saw Huntington take their first lead of the game 21-18, and giving them confidence going into the locker room.
"We were able to do that with two starters out in Montaque and Thomas, so anytime you can have that happen you feel good," Fulford said. "We got good play out of Levi Cook inside, who was hanging in there against a pro in Simmons, but we needed to be more consistent still."
He knew consistency would be key against Montverde, as they did have a lot of star power, but the Eagles had foul trouble of their own with Simmons picking up his 4th foul with 1:30 left in the 3rd that relegated him to the bench. Chris Egi though had a couple of nice putbacks inside, and a throwdown by Russell helped it Montverde up 1 after three.
Montverde wasn't able to pull away because of the combination of foul trouble, and the lack of connecting from the perimeter. They struggled mightily all game, ending up 3 for 20, and Eagles Coach Kevin Boyle looked to that as a reason why they were never able to make that run to take over the game.
"Huntington is a good team, but we usually shoot 8, 9, or 10 of 20 from three, we are a good perimeter shooting team, but we settled a lot for shots that may not have been all that great, which was something I didn't think was good," Boyle explained.
Luckily for him though, his team seemed more focused on attacking the basket in the 4th, with Simmons, back in the game with just under 5 minutes to play, threw down a one handed jam in transition off a nice push out from Russell. Simmons, who was held in check for the most part, did have 6 of his 12 points in the 4th, with Russell also taking advantage of the open lanes late.
Caesar, who didn't score in the game until midway through the 4th quarter, got Huntington back to within 52-51 with 28.1 to go, with the West Virginia school scoring 4 straight, but Montverde closed it out from the FT line late, with Russell finishing it off, helping the Eagles grab the 56-51 win.
Russell had 17 points on 5 of 17 shooting to pace Montverde in the victory, with Bibbs and Simmons scoring 13 and 12 respectively for the winners as well.
Huntington Prep shot just 35% from the field, and missed on their last 6 three point attempts to really hurt them late. Lindsey was the only scorer in double figures with 14 points, with Josh Perkins and JaQuan Lyle each adding 8 in the defeat.
It's now into the Garden for Montverde Academy where they will face Oak Hill Academy for the Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament championship, and they know they are going to get a stern test, and will have to play their best if they want to bring the title back home to Florida.
"Steve plays a great press, but we would be fine with that," Boyle said. "They are a very good team though and it should a good one tomorrow."
Bibbs though while he knows it's a big game, is also looking forward to what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"It's a dream come true," Bibbs admitted. "I watch the Knicks play out there, and all the other great. I always hoped to play there, and now it's coming true."