By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. — If there’s one thing you can count on at the GEICO High School Nationals is Montverde (Fla.) Academy advancing to the semifinals.
With that nugget of wisdom in wind, the defending champion Eagles pressed on in the nation’s toughest eight-team field by dispatching AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.), 72-63, on Thursday in the quarterfinals in the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWest State University.
The Eagles (21-4) meet IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) or La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) Friday in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
It was the first meeting between the national powerhouse programs since Montverde won, 51-49, on April 2, 2021, in the GEICO semifinals en route to its fifth tournament title.
AZ Compass Prep ended its campaign 25-5, playing a rigorous national schedule.
The Eagles were able to shake the Dragons late in the third quarter but saw their lead balloon to 13 points at 57-44 after two minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Dragons cut it six points on two occasions 63-57 and 66-60 before the Eagles closed with a 6-3 spurt in the final minute.
Malik Reneau topped the Eagles’ five double-digit scorers with 19 points before fouling out in the fourth. Reneau made 7 of 11 shots and all five free throws and cleared eight rebounds.
Dillon Mitchell scored 14 points, Jalen Hood-Schifino and Duke-bound national player of the year Dariq Whitehead each had 12 and Dravyn added 10, sinking a pair of 3-pointers.
Dylan Andrews, a UCLA signee, and junior guard Kylan Boswell each chipped in with 13 points for AZ Compass Prep, which was outscored by eight points in the second half.
Montverde won it from the bench that held a 26-10 scoring edge but looked impressive on defense outscoring the Arizona school 21-10 on points off turnovers.
Until the fourth quarter, the Dragons hung around.
Montverde settled for a 47-42 scoreline through three quarters. Up by seven points midway into the period, Whitehead’s spinning layup and Reneau’s two free throws kept the sixth-seeded Dragons at bay in the final minute.
The lead went back to seven points, 41-34, when Reneau dropped in two free throws with 4:27 left in the third.
Montverde built a 34-31 halftime edge but led by as much as seven points (34-27) when Whitehead rammed down an explosive dunk. Lamar Washington and Adrame Diongue both canned a pair of free throws apiece in the final 69 seconds of the half. Smith nearly tied from beyond the arc but his shot clanged off the rim at the horn.
Whitehead and Reneau each scored 10 points for the Eagles while Andrews had seven for the Dragons. Montverde shot 48% (on 12 of 25 accuracy) and controlled the paint with 16 points to eight. Meanwhile, AZ topped Montverde, 15-4, with bench points. Smith’s five points led that effort.
The third-seeded Eagles clung to a 28-25 lead midway through the second quarter as Mitchell slammed home two points. On the previous sequence, Colin Smith’s one-handed dunk off a missed shot had reduced the deficit to 26-25. Mitchell flew in from the weakside to power in the shot and giving the crowd something to cheer for.
It was an entertaining first quarter as AZ led 19-18 when Andrews sank a short jumper that beat the buzzer. The teams traded threes and Whitehead knocked down three straight free throws for six points. Andrew tallied seven for the Dragons.
Mason’s 3-pointer with 3:44 left in the opening quarter gave the Dragons an 8-6 lead. A minute left, Whitehead’s three-ball evened it at 10.
Through two boys’ games, the higher seeds advanced to the semifinals.