Game 3, Day 2
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The fundamentals usually separate the winners from the losers especially in a tightly played contest.
Take Montverde (Fla.) Academy.
The Eagles converted only 10 of 17 free throws for 58.8% on Friday afternoon but it counted the most in the final 18 seconds, they canned four consecutive free throws under intense pressure.
Leading by a point over archrivals IMG Academy, Dariq Whitehead and Jalen Hood-Schfino each canned a pair of free throws and the third-seeded Eagles survived a 62-57 decision in the semifinals of the GEICO High School Nationals boys’ tournament in the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWest State University.
The Eagles (23-4) will play for the championship on Saturday at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN against eighth-seeded Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) or fourth-seeded Link Academy (Branson, Mo.).
It was the third meeting of the Florida rivals but the first time Montverde won. During the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference this season, IMG won 65-64 on Dec. 3 and 57-53 on Jan. 17. Once again, the game was played at a high level and went down to the wire before the Eagles emerged.
The game was tied at 49, 53 and 54 in the fourth quarter. Dillon Mitchell gathered a loose ball and converted a layup with less than two minutes left to give the Eagles a 56-54 lead, one that would not surrender.
Malik Reneau’s lay-in made it 58-54 with 67 seconds left. Jarace Walker’s clutch conventional three-point play brought the Ascenders within a point at 53.7 seconds. Walker could have given his team a lead with 31.4 remaining but missed a one-and-one.
Whitehead, a Duke recruit, then dropped in two free throws with 18 seconds and Hood-Schfino added two more at 9.3 seconds and the Eagles were back in the championship with a chance to defend their GEICO title.
Whitehead scored 21 points and Reneau added 10 points and Mitchell had eight points and grabbed 13 rebounds in victory. Keyontae George’s 21 points led IMG while Michigan-bound Jett Howard had 12 and Walker 11.
Second-seeded IMG concluded the season 23-5.
The game was close throughout.
IMG regained the lead late in the third quarter with an 8-0 spurt that rallied them from a 41-39 hole. George drilled a pullup 3-pointer and then broke the press with driving layup. Walker then added a steal and slam dunk with 17 seconds left for a 47-41 edge.
IMG’s George tied the game at 33 early in the third but Montverde scored the next four, including transition layup by Whitehead, to make it 37-33.
IMG trailed for much of the first half but were only down one at 31-30. Thanks to George’s desperation 3-pointer from 40 feet, the Ascenders were nearly even at the break.
Whitehead dropped in a triple for a 29-23 lead with 82 seconds remaining and Evans made a pair of free throws to bump Montverde’s edge to 31-27 with 3.8 seconds. That’s when IMG called timeout and ran a set for George, who received the inbound pass, dribbled up the right sidelines and canned a 3 as time expired.
Whitehead topped the Eagles with 12 points, including two 3s, and George had 11 for IMG. It was a physical game with the Eagles holding a 22-14 edge on the boards and doubled up IMG 20-10 for points in the paint. Mitchell had six points and six rebounds in the first half for the Eagles.
Reneau outmuscled his man inside for a quick hoop and eight-point bulge at 24-16 just over a minute into the second. George countered that with a rare four-point play to halve the lead to 24-20. George drilled a 3-pointer in transition and swished the subsequent free throw after being bumped at the midway point of the stanza.
Montverde jumped to a 12-9 when Whitehead drove hard to the rim with 2:19 left. IMG started with 5-0 microburst in the opening minute.
The Eagles settled into their offense and the defense applied the pressure for a 17-12 lead after one quarter. Whitehead scored nine points, including a long 3-pointer from the left wing under heavy pressure.
Montverde held up to the pressure and now go for a sixth GEICO championship in program history under coach Kevin Boyle.