By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Remember the name Jordan Walsh.
He’s a dandy of a player and the fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks will relish his play come next season. But Walsh isn’t about to allow his senior season to end prematurely and on Thursday afternoon he made sure nationally ranked Link Academy (Branson, Mo.) would extended its season for at least one more day.
Walsh did a little of everything during the quarterfinals of the GEICO High School Nationals boys’ tournament.
He played at warp speed. He played above the rim. He drilled perimeter shots. He defended well too. Walsh and the rest of the Lions were up for the challenge in defeating Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), 81-67, in the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWest State University.
Walsh had 23 points, eight rebounds, seven assist and one steal. He sank 9 of 10 shots from the floor for 90%, including a 3-pointer. It was a glorious performance for the 6 foot 7 forward.
The Lions (32-1) moved on to play top-seeded Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.) or Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) Friday in the semifinals at 2:30 ET on ESPN2.
The game also marked the end of a brilliant coaching career by Oak Hill’s Steve Smith. He compiled a jaw-dropping 1,231-99 record, sending countless players to the NBA and college and capturing nine national championships and one GEICO Nationals title. Next stop is the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Oak Hill concluded the season at 33-8.
And Link did the same in the fourth quarter with a 22-15 showing but it was the depth that outdid the Warriors. The Lions had eight players in the rotation with a decisive 22-3 advantage in bench points.
Julian Phillips added 20 points and six rebounds. Link outrebounded the Warriors, 42-25.
Link carried a 59-52 lead into the fourth and used a quick 7-2 spree over the final 2:42. Walsh punctuated it with two alley-oop dunks. The second one with 45 seconds left as Green lobbed a pass to rim and Walsh dived in from the opposite baseline and emphatically tallied the deuce much to the chagrin of a stunned Oak Hill defense.
The third started with a bang with both teams running and dunking. Oak Hill took its first lead at 36-34 less than a minute in when Devin Ree nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner. Link went up five (39-34) before Oak Hill counted with a 7-0 burst. Felix Okpara, a 6-11 senior center, finished off a spectacular alley-oop pass to the rim with a dunk. Okpara finished with 12 points (6 of 6 shooting, and four rebounds. His wingspan also altered several Oak Hill shots inside.
The game featured several twists and turns and momentum shifts.
If the first quarter was played at a frenetic pace, the second was more of a slog. Oak Hill sensing the game could be out of hand, concentrated on sets halfcourt and with Link in early foul trouble, the Warriors were only trailing 29-24 with less than four minutes left. Mintz sank two free throws and Livingston bucketed a three.
The game was a contrast in programs. Oak Hill is the establishment while Link is the newcomer to the national scene, playing in their initial GEICO Nationals. Link wanted it more in a swansong game for Smith.
Just when it was casual to count out the Warriors, think again. Trailing by as many as 13 points in the second quarter, the Boys from southwestern Virginia unleashed a 19-7 run and were down a point, 34-33, at halftime.
Mintz, who netted 11 of his team-high 21 points in the first half, finished off the opening half with a transition layup off a turnover and the Warriors went into the break with momentum. Oak Hill did damage from the free-throw line, making 10 of 16 (62.5%). They also made 6 of 8 shots in the second while Link cooled off (2 of 13 for 15.4%). Oak Hill forced nine turnovers that resulted in 10 points.
Link’s bench came to life, outscoring Oak Hill, 13-1. The Warriors stuck to their senior-laden starting five only calling on three reserves for limited playing time.
Link raced to a 27-14 lead after one quarter. Trey Green canned a 3-pointer and Michigan-bound Tarris Reed Jr. slammed home two to spark a 9-0 run to end the period. Oak Hill clawed back from an early 10-point deficit when Mintz scored from the baseline to make it 18-14 at 2:32.
Link then reapplied the pressure.
Walsh made his presence known in the opening four minutes with nine points, including a deep 3-pointer from the left wing, and the Lions were up 14-7. After a shaky start and a few defensive lapses, Oak Hill regained its composure. But Link did not back down, at least early.
Before the Warriors, they were down 5-0 in the first minute. About two minutes later it was 11-1 as Walsh scored off a pair of steals in the backcourt.
Link sizzled from the field in the first, sinking 11 of 15 shots for 73.3%.
For the game, Devin Ree scored 17 points with four 3-pointers, and junior guard Caleb Foster and Kentucky-signee Chris Livingston each had 12 points. The Warriors managed 23 of 57 shooting (40.4%) but only made 7 of 25 from three-point range for 28%.
Link held a decisive 48-26 scoring effort in the paint.