NEW YORK – Montverde (Fla.) Academy proved it could play any style and win. Thursday afternoon, the Eagles grinded one out against a team which is accustomed to winning in that fashion
Second-seeded Montverde (Fla.) Academy overcame a slow start to put away Greensboro (N.C.) Day, 50-34, in the quarterfinals of the DICK'S Sporting Goods High School Nationals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
"They [Greensboro Day) are a well-coached team," Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said. "They are patient and play a compact defense. You can’t gamble against these guys."
Montverde (29-1) is back in the semifinals for the fourth straight year, facing Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) on Friday at 3 p.m. (ESPNU). It was the Eagles’ seventh straight win in the tournament since falling in the 2012 final.
"Findlay has a number of talented players. They are long, block shots but both teams can run the floor. We’ll have to step in against Allonzo Trier and be patient against a shot blocker like Horace Spencer III."
In the quarterfinals, a pair of future Southeastern Conference players shone for the Eagles. Florida-bound Noah Dickerson topped all scorers with 20 points (on 7 of 12 shooting) and had 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Ben Simmons, who is headed to LSU, shook off fatigue (after playing the previous day in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago) to record 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Senior Peter Agba, who signed with Akron, kept the Bengals close, 43-33, with a turnaround baseline jumper from 10 feet at 4:18. The Nigerian forward wound up with a team-high 12 points and hauled down 5 rebounds. Agba hit 3 of his first 4 shots in the first quarter but didn’t score again until the fourth.
Greensboro Day (33-3), the North Carolina Independent Schools 3A champion, struggled after halftime.Just 28 seconds into the fourth, Paul Sprick’s two free throws broke a seven-minute scoring drought bridging the third and fourth quarters to make it 35-23. The offensive issues affected the Bengals in the middle two periods, scoring 2 points in the second and 4 in the third.
Montverde closed out the third in comfortable fashion as junior guard Howard Washington (9 points) totaled 5 points in the final 1:47, including a trey from the left wing, for a 35-21 lead.Greensboro’s Darius Moore added 9 points and 5 rebounds but the Bengals were limited to 30.2% from the floor (13 of 43) and canned one shot from beyond the arc in 9 attempts.
"We knew they were a talented team; we played them last year," said Greensboro Day veteran coach Freddy Johnson, who surpassed 900 career wins in December.
Montverde cranked up the defense in the third and took a 27-19 edge with 5:40 left on Dickerson’s transition layup. The Eagles were now flying and the Bengals were grounded.
The game started out at a deliberate pace to the liking of Greensboro Day, which opened a four-point lead.
Montverde, two-time defending champions of this event, rallied in the second period to grab a 21-17 lead at the intermission. Montverde hit a woeful 7 of 23 shots for 30.4% and made only 1 of 5 from three-point range (20%). Dickerson seemed to provide the offensive spark in the opening 16 minutes, netting 11 points (on 5 of 9 shooting) and clearing 4 rebounds. Simmons, the national player of the year by numerous outlets and the nation’s top-rated recruit, had 7 points and 5 rebounds after drawing special attention from Greensboro’s defense.
"I was tired coming in today from Chicago," Simmons said. "I was prepared mentally to overcome it."
Agba scored 8 points for the Bengals and Darius Moore had 5 in the first half.
Greensboro was patient in the first quarter, working the clock and attempting to keep the more athletic Eagles at bay. The Bengals were up 15-11 but Montverde regrouped in the second using a 10-2 spurt to seize control.
Dickerson was also prepared.
"It’s the playoffs you have to step up your game," he said.
The Eagles are now one victory from another DICK'S Nationals championship.
– Christopher Lawlor reporting