By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. – For the second straight year, the GEICO High School Nationals’ top seed lost in a quarterfinal thriller.
And for the first time in four years, there will be a new boys’ champion.
That’s because the unthinkable unfurled Thursday evening. Eighth-seeded Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.) scored the game’s final seven points in the last 64 seconds to complete a shocking 46-45 win over the nation’s No. 1 team inside the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWest State University.
Down 45-39, the Buffaloes tore to the finish. It started with a rare four-point play from G League-bound Matas Buzelis, who knocked in a three-point field goal and the free throw to make it 45-43.
Monteverde had an empty possession and Sunrise’s Scotty Middleton drained a long 3-pointer from the right wing with 19 seconds left for the lead.
Montverde had its chances to win it. Sunrise defended well. Still Montverde had possession with 6.2 seconds left and an inbounds pass went to Derik Queen, who slithered between two defenders in the lane. The big man’s shot rolled around the rim and sophomore Cooper Flagg was on the weakside for the putback.
No one tagged him.
Yet the lid remained on the rim.
The Buffaloes play Link Academy (Branson, Mo.) in Friday’s semifinals.
It was a sweet outcome for the Buffaloes, who last year were upended in the GEICO quarterfinals as the top seed. Montverde won it all in 2022 but now a new champion will be crowned Saturday afternoon.
Matas led the winners with 17 points and the Ohio State-bound Middleton clicked for 12. Meanwhile, junior Liam McNeeley fired in a team-high 13 points in the loss and Queen finished with 10.
The Buffaloes won the final quarter 14-10.
Trailing 32-26 late in the third, the Eagles regained their shooting touch, nailing a trio of 3-pointers, two from McNeeley and Flagg with one, and just like that it was 35-32 entering the fourth quarter.
They had a 14-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters before the Buffaloes clawed their way back in the game.
It was the fourth buzzer-beater of the day. It was the most exciting day in the history of this event that dates back to 2008.
The first half was a slog for both teams.
Late in the second quarter, Buzelis popped in a 3-pointers for a 23-20 lead at halftime. Buzelis netted nine points in the first half and Bol had six points and two rebounds.
Givens scores seven points and McNeeley and Flagg had five apiece for the Eagles, who only managed 7 of 24 shooting.
The game was tied for more half of the opening 16 minutes with seven ties and five lead changes.
Neither team gained separation in the first quarter but the Eagles took a 14-11 lead with 22 seconds left when McNeeley stroked a 3-pointer but Bol slammed home a rebound at the other end it was 14-13 through one.