Prep Championship Quarterfinal Recap
The National Prep Championships kicked off Tuesday at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut with quarterfinal action. All four games came down to the wire with each being decided by four points or less. Let’s break down each matchup:
Notre Dame Prep 80, St Thomas More 76
St Thomas More jumped out early and established a lead that they held through the majority of the game. A.J. English was very productive for STM driving into the paint and knocking in perimeter shots. He also took advantage of mismatches and posted up smaller defenders to get easy points inside. Sharing the load with English was Ky Howard for STM. The 6’3” wing did his damage along the baseline both on hard drives and crashing the offensive glass. His never ending motor gave Notre Dame Prep problems all day as he simply outworked the opposition. Despite playing with a lead most of the day, this game felt like it would slip away from St Thomas More all along. Eventually, the talent of Notre Dame Prep shined through and they were able to prevail.
Pittsburgh bound big man Steven Adams led the charge for NDP tallying 18 points on a series of power dunks and putbacks. Stats beyond points were unofficial for the day but I estimated 15 rebounds and 5 blocks along with Adams’ point total. Myles Davis served as his main partner in crime racking up 19 points and doing so in an unconventional way. Normally thought of as a knock down shooter, Davis struggled with the long ball today and to his credit made an adjustment and started attacking the basket. He earned multiple trips to the free throw line in addition to finishing plays at the rim. Sam Cassell Jr. (12 points) and Adonis Filer also made strong contributions for Notre Dame Prep in the victory.
Brewster Academy 92, Massanutten Military Academy 88
Brewster took the court for the first time since Northfield Mount Hermon ruined their perfect season with a stunning upset in last week’s NEPSAC AAA Playoffs. Early on it looked as though they were looking to make a statement as they jumped all over MMA in the first half. Future Florida State Seminole Aaron Thomas was terrific knocking home 17 points in the game’s first 20 minutes. He made deep, contested jumpers, buried midrange pull-ups, and got to the rim in transition. Perhaps even more impressive in the opening stanza was Xavier bound Jalen Reynolds. The big man came off the bench and seemed to dunk every time he touched the ball. Reynolds had 12 points (10 in first half) most notably a baseline drive and dunk through contact that will be surfacing on highlight mixtapes in the very near future.
Brewster took a 52-40 lead into halftime and looked poised to close the door at the start of second half. Massanutten didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to lay down and came out with some fire after intermission. 2013 point guard Corban Collins made a flurry of long range shots and ran the offense with great efficiency in half court sets. He finished with 28 points in the loss and generated quite a bit of high major buzz in the process. Brewster just had too many weapons to stop and after the first half belonged to Thomas and Reynolds, TJ Warren and Jakarr Sampson owned the second. Sampson had 22 showing off his rapidly improving midrange jumper in tandem with his usual array of highlight reel dunks. TJ Warren did what he always does which is scoring the ball in high volume without breaking a sweat. Warren puts the ball in the basket with such ease it almost appears as though he’s toying with defenders at times and perhaps he is. He netted 25 points including 19 in the second half to carry Brewster to a 4 point victory.
New Hampton 57, Tilton 55
With Nerlens Noel starting the game on the bench (reasons unknown) and Wayne Selden out with an ankle injury, New Hampton blitzed Tilton from the opening tip. The Huskies jumped out to a 22-3 lead behind senior leaders Olivier Hanlon and Zach Auguste. Auguste scored on the low block and rebounded the ball on both ends of the floor while Hanlon controlled tempo and set everything up for New Hampton. It felt like the game might be over after 10 minutes but Tilton had other plans. The Rams came storming back behind future Iowa State Cyclone Georges Niang and his ability to score from anywhere. Niang made 3 pointers, scored on the low block, beat his man off the dribble, and dunked in transition. If there is a way to put the ball in the hoop, Georges Niang knows about it and is proficient at it. With Niang pacing the offense, Nerlens Noel handled defensive duties blocking basically every shot attempted within 5 feet as Tilton made their comeback. Noel had in the area of 8 blocks and 5 steals today and yet was clearly not his normal self. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what was wrong but it was not a typical Nerlens Noel performance. The fact that he could still have such a profound defensive impact despite not having his “A” game speaks to Noel’s immense talent.
As the clock wound under a minute Tilton was trailing 55-52 with the basketball. They missed a couple of shots but were able to scrap for second chance opportunities and eventually the ball swung to Georges Niang on the right wing. He calmly knocked one in from behind the arc to tie the game for the first time since it had been 0-0. With the game on the line and one chance to win it, New Hampton cleared out for stud sophomore Noah Vonleh and let him go one on one with Nerlens Noel. Vonleh worked his way into the paint and uncorked a wild runner over Noel as the shot clock expired that banked in off the glass for a 2 point lead. Tilton had a few seconds left to try and hit a game winner of their own but they turned it over and New Hampton survived.
Hargrave Military Academy 79, Northfield Mount Hermon 75
With the first 3 games being decided by a total of 10 points it seemed improbable that the nightcap would top them all but that’s exactly what happened. NMH came in fresh off their run to the NEPSAC AAA title including a victory over previously undefeated Brewster Academy. With Hargrave entering this contest undefeated, NMH was trying to do the impossible for the second time in a week. In the opening minutes that seemed like the path we were headed down as NMH came out flying jumping out to a 22-8 advantage. It wasn’t only the lead but how NMH got to it that was so impressive. Running the floor in transition and dunking everything in sight (including multiple alleyoops) sent a strong message. The win over Brewster wasn’t a fluke. NMH came to New Haven with every intention of winning another tournament. The person responsible for most of the hammers being dropped at the rim was 6’8” Harvard signee Evan Cummins. Cummins looks more explosive and bouncy around the rim than ever before and projects as a star in the Ivy League. If still uncommitted high majors would be all over Cummins which really speaks to the phenomenal job Tommy Amaker is doing at Harvard.
While NMH threw a hard first punch, Hargrave didn’t go undefeated this year by backing down when they’re in a fight. They punched right back and took the lead at the half 42-38. They turned the tide with swarming pressure defense and the interior duo of Montrezl Harrell and Ryan Taylor. Harrell (31 points) dunks everything within 5 feet with such power that it appears the backboard might come down every time. One of the strongest players in high school basketball, Harrell does a great job of sealing his defender and leaves no question at the rim. Taylor is more skilled with the ball in his hands but also can bully defenders inside when need be. He had one sequence that stood above everything else I saw all day. Taylor grabbed a defensive rebound and took off in the other direction weaving through multiple defenders before using a euro step in the lane and finishing with his left hand. Falling to the ground on the finish Taylor was left trailing behind the play on defense as NMH tried to push and get a layup. He raced down the floor and pinned a rejection up against the backboard from behind securing the ball for his team. The combination of skill and effort that Taylor showed in this 20 second sequence eclipsed anything else that happened on this court today. With Taylor and Harrell leading Hargrave and Cummins and Sam Donahue (21 points on a bunch of deep shots) leading NMH, the lead changed hands multiple times in a wild second half. It came down to Hargrave trying to secure a 1 point lead with 45 seconds left. NMH opted to get a stop without fouling but had their hearts broken when Ambrose Mosley tossed in a 30 footer as the shot clock expired giving Hargrave a 79-75 lead. They won by that same score in the best game of the day.
11:00a.m. Semifinal - Brewster Academy vs. Notre Dame Prep
1:00p.m. Semifinal - Hargrave Military Academy vs. New Hampton
7:30p.m. Championship Game