SOUTH JAMAICA, N.Y. The heart of the iS8/Nike Spring High School Classic playoffs arrived on Saturday, as 16 teams went head-to-head to secure eight spots in the tournament's one-and-done postseason. This Sweet 16, of sorts, did not disappoint, taking onlookers through a series of emotions throughout the day as the spectators sat through nearly 10 hours of play.
Though the talent level was high, the ax was dropped on several squads. Meanwhile, the last teams standing after the dust settled earned the right to be named among this season's Elite 8.
Let's take a look at some of the action.
New Heights (Seniors) Take Out Team Nike, 84-74
The contest between New York teams, New Heights (Seniors) and Team Nike, was such a highly intense matchup that the competitive energy on the court leaked to spectators in the crowd.
Both squads held early advantages in the first quarter, with New Heights closing out the period up by a deuce, 18-16. In the second period, however, Team Nike was able to cut out as much a 10-point lead, 28-18, on a jumpshot by Tafari Whittingham (Lincoln High School (N.Y.) '12) at the 3:40 mark of the second phase. Clicking on all cylinders on the offensive end was Team Nike's Justin Jenkins (Wings Academy (N.Y.) '12), who en route to a 27-point, team-high performance, netted 18 points in the first half alone.
Although Team Nike brought some dynamic, power plays to the table, those athletic sequences were counteracted by set plays ran by New Heights. The result was New Heights, paced by the penetration and shooting of Hofstra-commit Jimmy Hall (St. Anthony's High School (N.J.) '12) and Rashad Andrews (Boys & Girls High School (N.Y.) '12), slicing its double-digit deficit to only three points, 36-33, by halftime.
In the tertiary period, New Heights' SMU-bound Brian Bernardi (Xaverian High School (N.Y.) '12) nailed back-to-back 3-pointers at about the midway mark of the quarter to thrust his squad ahead of Team Nike, 48-44. A trey by Team Nike's Jenkins hushed the New Heights fan base, but only temporarily as New Heights continued its grind mode and increased its advantage to 12 points, 60-48, on another 3-pointer by Bernardi late in the period.
Defensively, New Heights took out Team Nike's interior options, leaving the team shooting from outside. As a result, Team Nike slightly narrowed the margin to eight points, 60-52, by the close of the quarter.
In the fourth and final phase, Team Nike seemed to scramble for an adequate rotation to stop the momentum of New Heights. New Heights' Tyliek Kimbrough (Bishop Loughlin High School (N.Y.) '12) helped move the ball around well to find Bernardi and Andrews in sweet spots at the perimeter or accelerating to the rim. Bernardi torched the nets from mid and long range, while Andrews seemed invisible to Team Nike's defense: nimbly and effectively moving through driving lanes. Consequently, New Heights watched its margin over Team Nike grow to as much as 14 points, 73-59, by the 3:56 mark of the period.
Team Nike opted to turn its shooters into drivers late in the game, which worked to the squad's advantage. However, the strategy switch-up was too late to make a dent in the outcome.
New Heights' Andrews finished with a game-high 30 points, while Bernardi netted 26 points. Teammate Hall finished with 19 points in the matchup, and Kimbrough recorded six points.
Playaz (Jrs) Edge out Ben Gordon All-Stars, 97-92
Ben Gordon All-Stars, which contains players from Mount Vernon High School (N.Y.), always brings a formidable squad to compete at the iS8. So, when metropolitan area rival New Jersey Playaz Club (Jrs.) - a squad that was a formidable contender during regular league play - stepped on the hardwood, one knew it would be an interesting matchup.
Ben Gordon held a pretty sturdy grip on the contest during the first quarter. The squad's advantage lasted only into the early minutes of the second quarter. Quickly, Playaz (Jrs.) reversed the lead after turnovers by Ben Gordon's fast guard play gave the New Jersey squad opportunity to stage a run. However, a dagger by Ben Gordon's tough point guard Joshua Doughty ('13) from long range recaptured the lead, 32-31.
Playaz kept at it, using its many scoring options to stage a 9-2 run. The surge lifted Playaz to a 40-34 advantage. Both squads exhibited hard-nosed play, as well as great hustling and solid skill-sets.
With Playaz' overall size and girth advantage in comparison to Ben Gordon, Ben Gordon's Jarrel Marshall ('12) became an effective go-to-guy, as well as teammate, Oklahoma-bound Isaiah Cousins ('12). Marshall netted 19 points in the first half en route to a 25-point performance. Meanwhile, Cousins scored 13 of his game-high 30 points in the first stanza.
However, with each squad pulling forcefully at opposite ends of the rope, Ben Gordon did not do enough to overcome its deficit. Playaz Club (Jrs.) still led, holding a 49-45 advantage at halftime. Playaz' Reggie Cameron had 12 of his 21-point finish in the first half.
In the third quarter, though the Playaz were able to go up by nine points, 58-49, late in the period, Ben Gordon chipped the New Jersey advantage to one point, 70-69, on a trey by Cousins. In the fourth quarter, Ben Gordon stayed on Playaz' heels until a turnover opened the squad up to finally gain an advantage for the first time since the second quarter, 84-82, on a basket by Quadere Lovell ('12).
Still, Playaz Club proved that is was too hard to dominate as its players used power moves to the inside to attack the rim on the offensive end, rebound on both ends, and cash in on all opportunities. An 11-2 run, sparked and capped by Kavon Stewart - with some consistent buckets from Mike Young - put the Ben Gordon All-Stars away for good.
Playaz' Cameron and Young finished with a team-high 21 points, while Stewart chipped in 19 points. Ben Gordon's Doughty and teammate William Robinson ('12) each finished with 12 points.
Sports University Clips New Heights (Sophs), 55-52
Sports University (N.J.) only brought a five-man rotation to the contest against a young New Heights (N.Y.) squad consisting of about 11 players. Though the inexperience of New Heights showed, because of New Heights' ability to binge score, the contest came down to the final minutes of the game.
In the first quarter, Sports U. seemed to have the win in the bag, leading New Heights 16-4. After a flurry of buckets, New Heights tied the contest at 18, even taking the lead on a 3-pointer on the next trip down the court. Sports U. led 26-23 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Sports U. increased its advantage to 10 points, 37-27. However, back-to-back treys from New Heights dramatically cut Sports U.'s advantage to four points, 37-33. In the fourth quarter, Sports U. maintained a two-possession lead until the squad upped it to seven points, 49-42. New Heights would later bring the contest within a point, 53-52, but never overcome the deficit.
Sports U.'s Mike Aaman scored a game-high 20 points in the matchup, while teammate Shaquille McFarlan added 13.