By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. – It took 93 seconds at the onset of the fourth quarter, AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.) decided the game. That’s when the Dragons flicked the switch on and that was that.
After scoring 36 points in 24 minutes, the Dragons struck for 32 points in the final eight and defeated IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), 68-50, Thursday in the boys semifinals of the GEICO High School Nationals Thursday in the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State University.
AZ Compass Prep’s fourth quarter showing resembled a blitzkrieg with constant scoring, pressure defense and an ending that left the crowd in shock.
For the second time in three years, the Dragons are headed to the GEICO Nationals final Saturday against Link Academy (Branson, Mo.) at 12 p.m. EDT on ESPN. In 2021, the Dragons lost to Montverde (Fla.) Academy in the final and enter with a chance at a first-ever title.
Jamie Kaiser Jr. gave IMG its final lead after 51 seconds of the fourth, draining a trey to make it 41-40. AZ then took leads of 46-43, 49-43, 58-47 and 62-49 before it was over.
IMG was outscored 32-12 in the fourth.
Tru Washington topped the Arizonans with 18 points, including 13 in the second half, Trent Pierce came off the bench to score 12 points and grab seven rebounds. Oregon-bound guard Mookie Cook had 11 and Jordan Ross added 10, sinking 8 of 9 from the foul line.
Khani Rooths had 12 points and Ja’Mier Jones added 10 for IMG, which committed 13 turnovers after the break, leading to 27 points for AZ. The Dragons dominated the boards, 31-22.
The Ascenders were up 38-36 after three quarters when Amier Ali’s 3-pointer with 31 seconds left. It wouldn’t last long in the fourth.
The Ascenders led for nearly the entire first half and settled for a 29-24 scoreline at the break. IMG held a 16-6 edge in points in the paint but the Dragons relied on their bench for 10 points.
Six players scored in the first half for IMG, led by Jones with eight points and Rooths with six.
Washington and Allen tallied five apiece for the Dragons, who went 7 of 27 from the floor for 25.6%.
Conversely, the Ascenders knocked half of their shots (10 of 20). Both teams committed five turnovers in the tightly played opening half.
At the onset of the second quarter, the Ascenders jumped to a 17-7 lead. The Dragons were cold and didn’t appear to have the swagger they demonstrated in the quarterfinals victory second-seeded Long Island Lutheran (Brookville, N.Y.) the previous day.
IMG led 14-7 after one stanza in a low scoring game. AZ connected on just 3 of 18 shots while the Ascenders were 6 of 9 with one made three.
For just over three quarters, IMG was the team to beat until AZ Compass Prep unleashed the arsenal.