NEW YORK, NY - Montverde Academy's Head Coach Kevin Boyle knew his team had the talent to get the job done in the Dick's High School National Basketball Tournament Championship Game against Oak Hill Academy at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
He felt that with a McDonald's All-American in senior D'Angelo Russell, and a future McDonald's All-American, at least in his eyes, in junior Ben Simmons, that against a Warriors team he characterized as not as good as in past years, his team were favorites, and for three quarters they played near flawless, looking at if it would be an easy victory. A rough 4th quarter though made it close, but the Eagles, behind Tournament MVP Simmons' 24 points and 12 rebounds, won the title, 71-62.
Playing at the World's Most Famous Arena, Boyle felt as if there might be some early game issues, and he said he sensed a bit of nerves from his group before the start, but the opening play of the game may have punctuated the game entirely and put an end to any nervous feelings.
Brendan Boyle got the ball for Montverde after the Eagles won the opening tip, and he found Justin Bibbs going in for an alley oop slam.
"It probably calmed us a bit," Boyle said. "It got us off to a nice start and really seemed to get the guys going."
Montverde started to pull away late in the 1st, and into the 2nd. Late in both quarters were huge for the Eagles, going on 13-2 runs to end both with Simmons dominating the paint, and Russell knocking down 3 first half threes to see Montverde go up 42-25 at the break.
Boyle and his side said the only thing they were concerned about at the half was maintaining composure and not taking their foot off the gas, while Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said he was left to wonder what was going on with his team.
"The 1st half was not a typical Oak Hill performance for sure," Smith said. "We were turning the ball over at a high rate with 13 in the first half, and we had a lot of breakdowns on both sides of the ball as well."
Smith said all he wanted was to play 1 possession at a time to start the 3rd, adding though that because they were so far back, he was starting to have to make adjustments on defense that he normally wouldn't make, specifically not pressing or trapping the ball the way he says he likes to because they just couldn't afford to get in an even bigger hole.
The problem with that was they got in a bigger hole. Justin Caroline connected on a pair of putbacks inside, and then Simmons, who Smith called an absolute beast, threw home a powerful dunk to make it 53-28 Montverde with 4:32 to go in the 3rd.
It was a tough time for Oak Hill, and guard Terrence Phillips admitted that there were some points where the team started to get mad at each other, but off a timeout down 25, he said things had to change.
"We were finger pointing and blaming each other a bit, but we basically just said at that point that we are Oak Hill, and there is so much tradition here, that we can't go out like this."
They did start to turn it around a bit as Warriors big man Rokas Gustys scored on a couple of short finishes in the paint late in the 3rd, and Caleb Martin hit a clutch three ball near the end of the quarter, and while it was still a 17 point Eagles lead after three, Martin even said, that it gave them hope.
"We felt like we had a chance still," Martin said. "We were playing well and we believed we weren't out of it."
Oak Hill continued the run into the 4th, with Martin, and his brother Cody Martin getting the rim and finishing, while Montverde, unlike they did for the first three quarters, seemed intent to settle, with Russell and Makinde London each missing on threes as the Warriors scored the first 9 of the 4th to get within 51-42, and Russell agreed with his coach, that he felt the team was not playing the way they had to grab the big lead.
"Instead of getting the basket we settled, it was like we were playing to hold on, and not win," Simmons said.
At one point Oak Hill got the deficit to 7, and Boyle started to implore his star junior Simmons to make a play, and he and Chris Egi made big plays, with each blocking a Martin drive, and then Egi had a basket to break up the Warriors run, which really seemed to stem the tide according to Smith.
"That was deflating a bit I thought. We were making progress and keeping them from scoring inside, but Egi scored a couple times inside and that seemed to do it," Smith explained.
Simmons added a baseline drive blowing past Gustys to have Montverde go back up double digits at 11, and even though Oak Hill was considerably stronger from the FT line down the stretch, the lead the Eagles had built up proved to be too much as Montverde won their 2nd straight Dick's H.S. National Tournament, taking down Oak Hill this time, 71-62.
Simmons grabbed the MVP going off for 24 and 12, while Russell also had a double double, finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Bibbs ended up adding 17 points as well in what Russell called a great team win, this coming from a player playing his 4th game in 4 days.
"Getting tired isn't an option. I don't know the last time I came out of a game was but the win was the most important thing, and I was going to do whatever was needed to make that happen," Russell said after playing 3 games in three days here, after playing in the McDonald's All-American game on Wednesday.
Oak Hill was led by Phillips, the younger brother of Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings, and his 15 points, while the Martin brothers, Cody and Caleb, added 14 and 13 respectively.
It was a tough loss, and one that Smith said will sting for a bit, but not as much as others because of the fight his Oak Hill group showed.
"It would've been real easy for us to lose by 35 or whatever once we got down big, but the guys showed heart and character, and I'm proud of them for that so this one won't hurt as much because of that."
Montverde though won its 2nd straight Dick's National Title, and Boyle, who says he lost at MSG before when he coached at St. Patrick's in New Jersey to Hargrave Military Academy, and NYC Catholic League powers Rice, St. Raymond, and Holy Cross, says this is a moment he will remember for a while.
"It's definitely my best MSG moment, and it's great because it's so close to New Jersey where I coached for so many years, but even more than for me, it's great for the kids to have this, so I'm really happy for them," Boyle said.
And for Russell, who is headed next year to Ohio State, it's the perfect way in his eyes to end his H.S. career.
"I was star struck walking in here knowing how many of the greatest players have played here, it was incredible, and to get a win on this floor to be crowned National Champions is something that I will never forget."