By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. — it’s always good to have several options and coach Sean McAloon has a few at his disposal.
If you scroll down the IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) roster, there are more answers than questions. Take the latest one or in this case the one-two punch of seniors Keyontae George and Jarace Walker.
The duo seemed unstoppable at time. There was George torching La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) from the perimeter. Then add Walker’s freelance ability off the bounce and from midrange and it’s easy to see why the Ascenders beat La Lumiere, xx-xx, on Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the GEICO High School Nationals in the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWest State University.
The stat lines for both were startling:
George 22 points, 8 of 12 shooting (4 of 6 on 3-pointers), eight rebounds and five assists.
Walker game-high 23 points, 10 of 14 shooting (one 3-pointer), seven rebounds, four assist and five blocked shots.
Second-seeded IMG lit it up from the field, making 29 of 52 shots (55.8%) and 6 of 12 (50%) from three-point range. IMG became third higher seed to win in today’s quarterfinals.
The Ascenders (23-4) will meet third-seeded Montverde (Fla.) Academy on Friday in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
IMG led from start to finish, scoring the game’s first six points and taking leads of 15 points after one quarter and 10 into the intermission.
The Houston-bound Walker took over in the third quarter, scoring 10 of IMG’s 20 points or exactly half when the Ascenders built a 58-43 cushion. Ryan Mabrey’s three with 2:14 left pulled the Lakers within nine points (52-43). IMG answered with six straight points.
Walker scored six of IMG’s first seven points of the third, including a fastbreak layup, for a 47-35 lead. La Lumiere whittled it down to nine (44-35) on Mabrey’s basket.
Mabrey topped the Lakers with 15 points (three 3s) and Taj Manning, a Kansas State recruit, added 14 and nine rebounds.
IMG looked to deliver a true knockout in the opening half but La Lumiere made sure to stick around. Trailing by as many as 16 points, the seventh-seeded Lakers were down 38-28 at the break. They fell behind by double-digits.
George (15 points on 5 of 7 shooting) and Walker (nine) teamed to score 24 points for the Ascenders while La Lumiere’s Mabrey scored for eight and Manning had nine (4 of 4 shooting). IMG made 13 of 23 shots (56.7%).
The Lakers cut into IMG’s lead and were only down six points, 27-21, with 4:10 left when Mabry bucketed his second 3-pointer of the quarter. Undeterred the Ascenders upped the tempo went up 34-21 when Walker went coast-to-coast after grabbing a defensive rebound with two minutes in the half.
IMG’s first-quarter blitzkrieg resulted in a 26-11 advantage. George, who signed with Baylor, scored 13 points or half of his team’s output. When Noah Batchelor drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner, the Ascenders were up 26-9 and La Lumiere quickly called a timeout to quell the uprising.
It was the second meeting of the season between the teams, both of whom are members of the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference. On Feb. 3, the Lakers claimed a thrilling 93-91 double-overtime victory in conference play in Toms River, N.J.
In the early going, IMG sprinted to a 12-point lead at 18-6 at 3:13. George started the onslaught canning a pair of 3-pointers on IMG’s first two possessions. The lead swelled to 10-1 when Walker scored on a fingertip roll.
The Lakers finally scored their first basket at 4:26 from Aden Holloway but the Ascenders continued their charge.
In the end, the Ascenders avenged one of their four losses and did so in blowout fashion against a nationally ranked opponent.