Rivals Take Adidas Silver on ESPNU
The Mass Rivals had a storybook week at the Adidas Uprising Summer Championships, culminating an appearance on Sunday afternoon’s final, which aired live on ESPNU.
Wenyen Gabriel helped himself as much as any prospect in the country this week as he not only continued to be followed by a variety of high-major head coaches, but also added new suitors, as Duke’s Coach K and Kentucky’s John Calipari joined the likes of Kevin Ollie, Ed Cooley, Shaka Smart, Mike Brey and countless other head coaches throughout the week.
The Rivals began the day on Sunday matched-up against Team Loaded North Carolina, the tournament’s top overall seed featuring a pair of top ten players in Dennis Smith and Edrice Adebayo, but it was Makai Ashton-Langford that stole the showing, going for 16 points and 10 assists while holding Smith to 5-16 shooting the floor.
The performance was Ashton-Langford’s fourth consecutive strong showing against a nationally ranked prospect as he not only continued to score and make plays but also strung together one of the most impressive weeks of defense we’ve seen in a long time. He began by holding Payton Prichard to 3-12 shooting then locked down UCLA commit Lonzo Ball, the 11th ranked player in the country, to the tune of 4-24 shooting from the floor. By the time it was all said and done, Ashton-Langford had played four nationally ranked point guards in succession and held them to a collective 16-67 shooting.
After the Rivals scored a commanding win over Team Loaded in the semis, in a result that many deemed an upset, they faced another Team Loaded squad, this one from Virginia in the final.
Whether it was fatigue or the scrutiny of playing on national TV, the Rivals seemed a little out of sorts to start the game, but Chris Baldwin, who had a huge week in his own right, got going on the offensive glass to steady the ship while Vin Pastore got great production from his second unit. Greg Kuakumensah came off the bench to give the team a great burst of energy while Wabissa Bede slid over to the point and Azar Swain came in to knock down a handful of threes. Soon thereafter everyone was getting in on the act as Saul Phiri started to drain some threes, Tyonne Malone made acrobatic finishes, and Mark Gasperini and Jarrod Simmons both contributed important minutes up front as the Rivals opened up a double digit lead.
Loaded was too deep and too talented to just go away though and they came charging back in the second half. The Rivals seemed to be on the verge of holding them off, but then lost Ashton-Langford to an untimely late injury, and ultimately ended up falling 78-76.
While the loss was assuredly heart-breaking for the Rivals, it didn’t take away from what was an incredible run that saw literally every player on the roster provide important contributions at one point or another and culminated with a performance on national television that did New England proud.