DICK’S Nationals Game 8

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – One year ago, La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) vowed it would be back. The Lakers are back in the DICK’S Nationals final.

They somehow found a way on Friday. If you went to writer’s guild for a script on this one, it might be hard to believe. For the witnesses, it was sheer basketball glee.

In a game that rosary beads were squeezed to dust and EKGs spiked, the Lakers edged fourth-seeded Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), 54-52, in the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School National Tournament boys’ semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

Championship Saturday at the DICK’S Nationals is set. And for hoopheads and aficionados alike, this is otherworldly. The Lakers are back in the DICK’S Nationals
Championship for the second straight year and play Montverde (Fla.) Academy at 12 p.m. EDT on ESPN. In the girls’ final top-ranked Miami (Fla.) Country Day goes for its second title in three years against Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) at 10 EDT on ESPN2.

La Lumiere nearly caved after erasing a halftime deficit, thanks to poor free throw shooting in the final minute, but pushed on. And when reserve guard Grant Beucler sank a free throw with 4.3 seconds left, it gave Findlay one last chance. Justin Roberts flew upcourt but time elapsed as he passed to Jack Schwietz, who was open in the right wing.

The Lakers lived to play another day.

“My heart is running,” said a relieved La Lumiere coach Shane Heirman just moments afterwards.

With two minutes left, Findlay trailed 53-45 bur roared back. When La Lumiere missed three front ends of one and ones, the door was left ajar. Down one, 53-52, with 5.8 seconds, Tony Goodwin II could have given the Pilots (34-4) a lead but missed two free throws.

Beucler rebounded and went to the other end for two. He hit one and Findlay frantically pushed for the winner to no avail.

PJ Roberts, a Kentucky-bound McDonald’s All American, scored 13 points and grabbed 5 rebounds and Diane Lamine added 10 in the loss. Findlay forced 21 turnovers and scored 20 points off them.

Meanwhile, La Lumiere saw uncommitted senior Brian Bowen net a game-high 19 points and Michigan State-commit Jaren Jackson Jr. added 11 points and 7 rebounds. The Lakers made just 15 of 21 from the charity stripe but the touch abandoned them late.

In a championship basketball, with two highly ranked teams, you rarely are treated to big runs, ones that are game changers, but the Lakers busted out of the locker room at halftime with a power of a tsunami and the ferocity of an F-5 tornado. It was a 15-0 run that turned a five-point deficit into a 35-25 advantage.

In the end, it was a 24-7 third-quarter showing for the Lakers, who built a 44-32 edge. Bowen dropped in 9 points, stoking the spurt and his team shot a sizzling 72.7% on 8-of-11 efficiency.

The saga continued in the fourth when Jackson’s 3-pointer at 5:19 boosted the lead to 11 points (47-36) and prompted Findlay to call a timeout. The Pilots would not go down without a fight.

La Lumiere’s uninterrupted surge featured a Bowen tap-in off an alley-oop feed from Isaiah Coleman-Lands that brought down the house. With a loose ball rolling to the sidelines, Jacob Epperson tipped it to Isaiah Coleman-Lands, who instinctively spotted Bowen, who redirected the high lob in.

Pure bedlam ensued from the Laker Rowdies!

The second quarter was volatile.

It ended when Spencer Washington dropped in a left-handed 3-pointer from deep in the corner and the Pilots were up 25-20. The teams combined for 18 fouls and the defenses forced poor selection at both ends.

Roberts and PJ Washington scored 5 points apiece to top seven Findlay scorers. The Lakers found it hard to score also as Jordan Poole and Bowen each had 6.

The chippy play finally boiled over when Jordan Poole was assessed a hard foul on Lamine Diane early in the second and then a technical foul for pushing aside a Findlay player who aided Diane, who fell to the deck. Findlay made 2 of 4 free throws for a 16-13 lead.

With 2:16 left, double technical fouls were assessed to la Lumiere’s Coleman-Lands and Findlay’s Roberts.

It was a track meet from the start as both teams favored the up-tempo and trash-talking that occurs when the stakes are high. The defense ratcheted up their play, too. The winner advanced and loser was relegated to the sidelines.

Both teams struggled shooting, going a combined 7 of 35, with the Lakers at 3 of 17 (17.6%). Findlay tallied 8 points in the paint.

Findlay held a slim 9-7 lead through one. La Lumiere was spurred on by a massive student body contingent that dressed in the navy blue an white school colors. Students funded their own trips here, hoping the Lakers could move onto the DICK’S Nationals final on Saturday afternoon.

They are now back in the DICK’S Nationals final. One more win and a legacy is complete.