DICK’S Nationals Game 4

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – There is a tacit understanding within the La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) that anything short of winning the DICK’ Nationals would be a disappointment.

It’s one down, two to go if you are tabulating at home.

The Lakers, the top seed here and serious candidate for a national championship coronation, fought off a sluggish start to hold off Wasatch Academy (Mount Pleasant, Utah), 64-52, Thursday evening in the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School National Tournament quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

So the boys’ semifinals are as the Lakers play Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) at 5 p.m. EDT (on ESPN2) and in the other one it’s Montverde (Fla.) Academy vs. Greensboro (N.C.) Day at 3 p.m. (ESPN2).

La Lumiere (27-1) has played this season like there is unfinished business at hand. Last year, an Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) tip-in at the buzzer stunned the Lakers in the championship game at Madison Square Garden. The road to a second straight title game won’t be easy but after Day 1 at the DICK’S Nationals there will be a new champion as OHA lost.

The semifinal pairings are appetizing and eye-appealing for basketball aficionados.

The boys’ semifinals are preceded by a girls’ semifinal doubleheader with Hamilton Heights Christian (Chattanooga, Tenn.) vs. St. Frances Academy (Baltimore) at 11 a.m. (on ESPNU) and top-ranked Miami (Fla.) Country Day vs. Seton Catholic Prep (Chandler, Ariz.) at 1 p.m. (ESPNU). The girls’ final is Saturday morning at 10 on ESPN2.

La Lumiere seized control in the second. Brian Bowen had 21 points and 9 rebounds; Jaren Jackson Jr. added a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds; and Jordan Poole hot for 10 points as the Lakers limited Wasatch to 18 of 67 shooting (26.9%).

Junior forward Emmanuel Akot played the part of budding star with 14 points and 13 rebounds and had help from Josip Vrankic with 10 points and 14 boards and Jeff Baradziej with 11 points for Tigers (24-5), who were making a second straight trip to the DICK’S Nationals.

Wasatch had a puncher’s chance even in the fourth period.

Damion Squire’s nifty hop-step move produced a layup with 6:22 left and the Tigers trailed by nine (48-39). However, the exclamation point occurred with 2:06 left when Tyger Campbell’s alley-oop pass to Jacob Epperson (8 points) produced a rim-rattling slam dunk and a 60-47 lead. Michigan State-bound center Jackson also hammered home a missed shot in the final minute.

In the third, each time the Tigers inched closer, La Lumiere buckled down on defense. Bowen’s one-handed jam off a fast break outlet pushed the scoreline to 44-33 with 74 seconds left and settled for 44-35 lead heading into the fourth stanza. Akot had six points in the quarter.

After an inspiring first quarter, the Tigers were flat in the second. The Lakers built a double-digit lead at 26-16 when Jacob Epperson swished two free throws with 12.5 second left. Wasatch managed only five points in the period. Mady Sissoko came off the bench to score 4 points for Wasatch.

Jackson and Bowen, both McDonald’s All Americans, each scored 7 points in the opening half and teamed for 12 rebounds. La Lumiere’s defense clamped down as the Tigers connected on 7 of 37 shots for a putrid 18.9%, including 2 of 21 in the second (9.5%). La Lumiere was bolstered by 10-for-11 shooting from the charity stripe in the half.

Wasatch did not back down in the first quarter and led 11-9 when Akot converted a put-back with 4.3 seconds left. Akot was extremely active on the boards, grabbing 9 rebounds in the opening eight minutes. Jackson had 4 points for the Lakers.