Hoophall Classic, Day 3
St. Patrick’s and Findlay finish with drama.
by Sean Sweeney
As good a show as two of the nation’s best teams put on, an extra five minutes should have been needed to decide the outcome. With the gym at Springfield College overflowing at the seems for the 2010 Spalding Hoophall Classic, St. Patrick’s and Findlay Prep combined to create one of the best high school games in recent memory. With one-second left, Findlay up 71-70, St. Patrick’s Kyrie Irving stepped to the line, already 30 points deep, and everyone seemed to take for granted he would make it. Had to. Needed to…this was too good of a game to simply end at regulation.
Too bad he missed.
The long rebound came to Michael Gilchrist who was unable to get a shot to the rim before time ran out. It looked like it could’ve, or should’ve been a foul. But, the zebras called it a clean block.
Before madness ensued, the refs hustled off the court with St. Patrick’s head coach Kevin Boyle and senior forward Joshua Daniell chasing them out.
The Findlay one-point win will drop the Celtics of St. Patrick’s out of their number one national ranking while almost assuredly bumping Northland High School into the top spot to take their place.
From the first game on Monday’s slate, the anticipation was brewing. By 3 p.m., the buzz in the gym was electrifying.
“It was crazy,” Findlay’s star guard Cory Joseph said. “It was unbelievable. During my free throws, I could hear everybody yelling and booing. It’s like St. Patrick’s backyard here. We are from far away. I think the only fans we had here were my family. That was about it, so it was a crazy atmosphere.”
During the first few possessions of the game, guys were jumping at everything, running into each other, the intensity spilling out all over the floor. In one of the more celebrated matchups of the season, Joseph came out extra aggressive, getting the better of the future Duke point guard, Irving, in the first quarter.
Early in the first, Joseph blew past the Celtic lead man for multiple layups at the rim, including one three point play on a change of direction and jump-stop in the lane. Irving finally got his first bucket on a beautiful reverse with his left hand on the break to cut the Findlay lead to 15-12 with less than 2 minutes to go in the first.
And just a minute later, Irving was fouled, throwing a shot up that somehow rolled in to regain the lead for the Celtics.
Joseph, who had 9 first quarter points, took no time to respond, spinning in the lane for a pull-up jumper to deadlock the score at the end of the first frame at 17-all.
“I knew I had to be aggressive and get Gilchrist in foul trouble to get him out of the game early,” Joseph said of his approach. “He got a couple of nice blocks on me but I knew I just had to keep it up and hopefully my shots would fall.”
Joseph was in attack mode all game long. With a style similar to Monta Ellis, he hit a number of short pull-ups in the lane if he wasn’t finishing at the hoop.
After being troubled by foul trouble for most of the opening quarter, Tristan Thompson didn’t score his first points until the final few minutes of the half on a nice give and go with Findlay forward Godwin Okonji. Thompson exploded down the middle of the lane for a dunk to put Findlay up 31-27.
Part of the reason the Pilots were able to hold the lead without much help from their star forward was because of an ankle injury to Gilchrist. The No. 1 junior in the nation came down awkwardly on a defender’s foot in the second quarter and was limping the rest of the way.
“He really struggled walking in a dead ball situation,” Findlay head coach Michael Peck said. “But, then when he got the ball in an offensive situation, he would attack pretty hard so I was a little bit confused by that.”
With St. Patrick’s struggling, Findlay managed to open up a 46-34 lead early in the second half. Still, a few buckets by Gilchrist, showing his special ability to contort and find the hoop in traffic, fueled a 10-0 run to close within 2.
Down the stretch, Irving just took the game over, keeping St. Patrick’s close as the Pilots threatened to open it up.
At one point in the fourth, Irving scored 10 consecutive points for the Celtics, a collage of scooping layups and quick drives.
“Lets face it, Kyrie is an unbelievable player,” Peck said. “He’s got an unbelievable skill set and can get into the lane when he wants. You’ve got to account for him every second, with or without the ball.”
Irving acknowledged he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win.
“I try to be the most aggressive one out there and never want to be content on the floor,” he said. “But, I could always do more for my team.”
In the final half-minute, the two teams traded free throws before Findlay guard Nick Johnson missed a pair with less than 10 seconds left and the Pilots up 71-69. That set up a coast-to-coast drive by Irving, getting all the way to the rim for an easy layup, only to be fouled by Joseph.
Irving’s first make set the stage for the final, fateful miss and a Findlay win.
“It was a great spectator game, but I would prefer it to be a little bit more lopsided,” Peck said. “Nonetheless, you knew it was going to be a game like that when you have a very good team like St. Pats and the players that they do. You knew they would bring a little flurry in the second half and come at us and they did exactly that. We were fortunate our guys were able to sustain and persevere through it.”
While the main event was undeniably a classic, the rest of the national matchups on Monday were a mixed bag. Realistically, nothing could have measured up to the battle between arguably the two best teams in the country.
The day’s first game, billed as Texas vs. North Carolina, deteriorated into a colossal mismatch. St. Benedict’s Prep floor general Myck Kabongo, headed to Texas, led a first half shooting barrage that killed any hope of a close game between Bishop O’Connell and their 6-4 guard Kendall Marshall, signed to UNC.
With Bishop O’Connell starting the game in a zone, Kabongo repeatedly found open shooters for threes, from Mike Poole to Aaron Brown to even big man Gil Biruta. As a team, St. Benedict’s was 8-14 from deep in the first half.
At one point midway through the first quarter, the Grey Bees of St. Benedict’s led 20-3.
“We have set plays for the zone so we know exactly what to do when we see it,” Kabongo said. “We are never surprised. We work on this stuff at practice. Those things are from Coach. Coach gets us prepared for these kinds of things. We don’t panic because we know exactly what to do when we see it. We got open shots and we hit them.”
Kabongo showed poise and was in control throughout. While Marshall faced a wall of defenders whenever he got into the lane and was forced into a few tough drop offs to teammates, Kabongo kept his defenders at bay with a nice mix of floaters, passes at the rim and as well as jumpers. Obviously inspired by the opposing future Tar Heel, he just played at a different level.
“I took it personally (the matchup with Marshall),” he said. “Anytime I see someone who is highly-touted, I kind of go for his head. I think that’s what I did, caused a couple of turnovers here and there.
“I came out on top because I won the game. I don’t care about the stats. My team got the ‘W.’ We have a goal to be number one in the country.”
On the other side, O’Connell committed 12 first-half turnovers and struggled to get their star any openings against an intense defensive commitment by St. Benedict’s.
In the second half, St. Benedict’s responded to any push O’Connell made. While Marshall (14 points) and 6-5 junior Jordan Burgess (20 points, 8 rebounds) played much better, it wasn’t enough to make up the deficit.
Kabongo was the obvious star with 20 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds in the 72-52 win. But, he received support from Temple-bound Brown (14 points) and athletic four man, Biruta (16 points, 7 rebounds). Brown noted their unselfishness is a huge part of their success.
“We like to share the ball,” he said. “We don’t look like a selfish team where we have just one guy. Everybody on our team can score. We are one of the deepest teams so we just keep the ball and try to get everybody a touch.”
The next game pitted perennial power Bob Hurley’s St. Anthony’s of New Jersey against Los Angeles’ Westchester High School. Westchester’s Kareem Jamar aptly titled it: “East Coast vs. West Coast.” A stereotyped contrast in style—Hurley’s Friars with their rugged, physical defense against the long, wiry athletes from Tinseltown—never materialized. In fact, it was the suffocating defense of Westchester that ultimately wore St. Anthony’s out.
Westchester 55-51, mark one down for the West.
“It was fun (coming out here),” said Jamar, the game’s MVP with 17 points and 6 rebounds “It was exciting, being sort of east coast and west coast. We wanted to come out and try to send a message. They say we are soft so hopefully we sent a message.”
Hurley certainly took notice.
“(After the early minutes), every play the rest of the game where an athletic play needed to be made, they made it,” he said. “They were deflating. That’s the difference between the aggression and athleticism they showed and us being tentative.”
St. Anthony’s took a 23-17 second quarter lead and it felt like just another game where that famous Hurley defense was taking over. But, the Friars failed to open it up, their offense falling apart in the middle quarters.
After putting up 19 points in the first 8 minutes, the Friars scored just 15 in the next two quarters combined. That left the opening Westchester needed to take control.
Trailing for most of the second half, St. Anthony’s finally came back to tie it up at 46 after a three-point play by senior Derrick Williams, who is going to Richmond. But, the deciding sequence of the game came just 15 seconds later when Westchester’s Dwayne Polee pinned Williams’ next shot. The block yielded a fast break, eventually turning into a three-point play for Jamar.
With less than a minute to play, Jamar effectively ended it with an up-and-under reverse to put Westchester up 52-46. He scored 8 of his 17 in the final two minutes to knockout St. Anthony’s.
The 6-6 Williams was the lone bright spot for the Friars in the second half, rumbling his way to 22 points and 7 rebounds. Still, one stat told the whole story: While St. Anthony’s shot 61 percent in the first half, that figure dropped to 42 in the second.
In the nightcap, Mater Dei unleashed their long-range arsenal to down DeMatha Catholic, 79-71. UCLA commit Tyler Lamb of Mater Dei was all over the court, displaying the great potential he has as a 6-5-wing player. He filled up the box score with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists, as well as 3 steals and blocks each.
Lamb took care of the floor game so his teammates could let loose from deep. Senior Gary Franklin, committed to California, hit a team-high 4 threes for 17 points, including 2 consecutive back breakers to push their lead to 9 with under five minutes left.
Role players like Max Hooper and Katin Reinhardt also did their part, combining for 6 more triples.
After shooting just 34 percent in the first half, DeMatha played from behind virtually the whole way. While dunk contest winner Victor Oladipo’s 16 points and 15 rebounds capped off a nice weekend for him, the lack of offensive playmakers hurt DeMatha.
Quinn Cook, Dematha’s best offensive player, rebounded from a miserable first half to finish with 23 points, but needed 24 shots to do so. And Mater Dei’s 12 threes countered any run DeMatha made.
Mater Dei’s 79-71 win also gave head coach Gary McKnight a California state record with his 844
At the conclusion of the tournament, CoachesAid.com announced Findlay Prep’s senior Cory Joseph was given the event’s Most Outstanding Player Award after leading Findlay to a win with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 3 dimes in one of the biggest high school games of the year.
Half Hollow Hills West Tobias Harris, St. Benedict’s Myck Kabongo, St. Patrick’s Kyrie Irving and Winter Park’s Austin Rivers joined the MOP on the All-Tournament First Team, voted on by media members.
The second team was Northland’s JD Weatherspoon, Kinston’s Reggie Bullock, St. Patrick’s Michael Gilchrist, Mater Dei’s Tyler Lamb and Tavon Sledge of Half Hollow Hills West.