By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. – To replicate the GEICO High School Nationals is to experience it.
And have success in it.
Well, Rayvon Griffith scored the final seven points for seventh-seeded AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.) in the final 96 seconds, including the game-winner off a putback with 10 second left and the Dragons edged second-seeded Long Island Lutheran (Brookville, N.Y.), 73-71, Thursday in the quarterfinals of the GEICO Nationals inside the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWest State University.
AZ Compass Prep has played in this event before while the Crusaders were on their maiden voyage. The Dragons (24-4) advance to the semifinals and meet IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) Friday.
Griffith ended up with nine points and Terrence Hill scored 12 and both Mookie Cook and Jordan Ross had 11.
LuHi (22-3), which saw their 22-game win streak halted, battled back in the fourth quarter and finally evened the score at 66 when Amdy Ndiaye dropped two free throws with 2:04 left.
LuHi was fresh off last weekend’s New York State Federation Class AA championship and came to GEICO arguably as the nation’s hottest team.
Griffith, a Cincinnati recruit, hit two free throws less than 30 seconds later for a two-point lead. Godswill Ethelene’s basket tied it at 68.
A pair of threes, one from beyond the arc by Griffith and a traditional three-point play from LuHi’s Jayden Reid with 36.8 seconds, created a 71-all score.
AZ then worked for the final shot but misfired. Griffith alertly grabbed the errant shot and laid in the winning basket.
LuHi’s Jayden Ross went for the win on the ensuing possession but the trey fell short. The UConn-bound Ross wound up with 25 points on 9 of 11 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. Reid scored 17 and junior V.J. Edgecombe added 13.
It was the third buzzer-beater of the opening day at GEICO Nationals. As IMG and Link Academy (Branson, Mo.) held on in earlier games.
The LuHi rally started at the onset of the fourth and it appeared the Crusaders would ride the wave of emotion.
In less than a minute, Jayden Ross shot the Crusaders within two points drilling back-to-back 3-pointers and with 4:54 left AZ called timeout up 60-58. LuHi’s 14-4 spree awoke the sleepy crowd, which was ready for a wild finish.
They were rewarded for their patience for three uneventful quarters.
The Dragons controlled third with 21-13 showing and eased into the fourth up 56-44.
Jordan Ross topped the Dragons with nine points and Hill added six as they led 35-31 at the intermission. The Dragons made 12 of 27 shots and 5 of 9 from the arc.
The Crusaders started slow but tightened the gap by the half. Jayden Ross had 14 points, making all six shots from the floor, and Edgecombe had 11 and four rebounds. The Crusaders shot it better in the second, sinking 7 of 14 from the floor.
LuHi fell behind early in the first but rallied to slice the deficit to three points at 17-14. AZ hit 6 of 14 from the floor with two made 3-pointers. AZ built an 11-4 lead at 4:17 of the quarter before the Crusaders closed on a 10-3 run.
When Griffith, the Cincinnati, Ohio native, tallied seven of his nine in closing minutes, the Dragons pushed on leaning on their GEICO Nationals savvy.