DICK’S Nationals Game 7

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – Montverde (Fla.) Academy has a habit of playing its best in the big games. Before claiming another piece of hardware for the program that coach Kevin Boyle has taken to new heights, the Eagles had to reach the final.

Consider it a mere preamble to the final. And the Eagles made it look pedestrian on Thursday afternoon as they dismantled a team from North Carolina that prides itself a complete team. This time sheer talent and a healthy dose of lockdown defense won.

RJ Barrett’s tournament-high 26 points were more than enough and the Eagles blitzed Greensboro (N.C.) Day, 72-45, in the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School National Tournament boys’ semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

The Eagles are back in the DICK’S Nationals final after a one-year absence when they claimed a third consecutive crown in 2015. This time they will play national rivals La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) or Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) Saturday at noon EDT on ESPN. A matchup with Findlay would break the tied for the schools, which have three DICK’s titles apiece.

Greensboro Day, the North Carolina Independent School 3A champion, finished 34-4, going 1-1 here.

“We went from a 3-2 zone to 2-3 zone today and with our length its tough to play against,” Boyle said. “Give credit to our kids who stayed at school for spring break and practiced the zone. We don’t usually play it but have used both sets here this weekend.”

Barrett tossed in 21 of 26 in the opening half and had 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Fellow Canadian, Pittsburgh-bound guard Marcus Carr, fired in 10 points and dished out 6 assists. Sandro Mamukelashvili came off the bench to score 11 points and clear 7 rebounds. The Eagles had a 38-18 advantage in the paint with 23 coming on fast breaks.

“I had open shots but in the second half I didn’t to score as much,” Barrett said.

Rechon “Leaky” Black (12 points, 9 rebounds) found the touch in the third for two baskets to push the Eagles ahead 51-29 with 2:58 left. John Newman’s traditional three-point play with 1.8 seconds brought the Bengals within 18, but it was too late for any miraculous rally. Newman had 9 points and 6 rebounds.

“We still have one more game to win; we lost in the semifinals last year,” said Black, who is headed to North Carolina.

JP Moorman, a Temple recruit, and Solomon Smith each had 10 points for the Bengals, who made 18 of 57 shots for 31.6%.

“Every night it a different guy who does in on offense,” Moorman said.

With Barrett going off for 21 points in the first half and Montverde playing multiple zone defenses and controlling the glass, it became a toxic combination for the North Carolinians. Barrett came out like the sophomore All American he is by making 9 of 11 shots from the field and all three from downtown and grabbed 4 rebounds. The Eagles were up 20-15 in rebounds and sank 16 of 29 shots (55.2%) in 16 minutes.

The one thing that Greensboro dreaded was getting buried early. Well, the Bengals were down 41-23 at halftime. When Barrett drilled a NBA-range, 3-pointer at buzzer, it typified the uphill battle that Greensboro faced.

Moorman had 7 points and 5 rebounds but had little help other than 6 points from Will Dillard. The Bengals had a tough time shooting as they hit 10 of 29 for 34.5%.

Barrett continued his assault from the perimeter in the second but Montverde could not shake the Bengals, who were down six (26-20) at 3:16. Barrett extended the lead to 30-20 with lay-in.

Montverde quickened play when possible and led 15-11 after one quarter.

“Once we missed a shot on five possession I knew you can’t do this against Montverde. We’ve played some of the best teams in the country and our state. They have length and are a difficult matchup especially with their zone defenses,” Greensboro Day coach Freddy Johnson said.

That opening quarter up-tempo pace suited the Eagles just fine as they raced to a 13-9 edge with 2:08 left. Barrett picked up where he left off on Thursday with 9 points. The lefty from Toronto wound up with 11 points in the first, equaling the output of his opponent. Greensboro hot only 5 of 18 shots (27.8%), including 1 of 8 (12.5%) from three.

With Montverde back in the DICK’S Nationals final for fifth time in six years, Boyle knows one thing.

“Whoever wins this tournament deserves to be No. 1. This is the best high school tournament,” he said.