It was a fitting end to the prep school season as the nation's two top ranked teams were set to square off Thursday night in the finals of the National Prep Championship. Hargrave Military Academy (VA) and Findlay College Prep (NV) both brought undefeated records into the game.
Ultimately the 40 minutes of action lived up to its billing as the game came down to the final possession. With 4.6 seconds remaining, Findlay trailed 75-72. They held possession of the ball, but at the opposite baseline, meaning they would have to advance the ball the entire length of the floor and look for a three-point attempt to send the game into overtime.
Hargrave Military Academy Head Coach Kevin Keatts had other ideas as he instructed his team to foul Findlay and put them on the free-throw line since they were in the one and one bonus. Hargrave executed to perfection and sent Kentucky bound guard DeAndre Liggins to the stripe with only 1.3 seconds remaining. After Liggins knocked down the first attempt, everyone in the Rose Hill Gymnasium knew what was coming next. He would have to intentionally miss the second, hoping his team could quickly convert the offensive rebound.
Liggins did his part as his second free-throw hit the side of the rim and bounced over Hargrave's Chris Braswell. Findlay's Curtis Dennis flew in from the perimeter, caught the ball in the short corner, and immediately went up into his shot that would have tied the game. But there was Braswell, who had followed the ball and came up with the final blocked shot of the game as time expired giving Hargrave a 75-73 victory and a national championship.
Future Mississippi State guard Dee Bost earned tournament MVP honors as he scored a combined 90 points in Hargrave's three wins, including a game high 26 in the finals. Simply put, Bost was the best player on the court every time he suited up. He shot the ball tremendously well throughout the week knocking down at least four three-pointers in each game. But he was far from one dimensional as his shooting prowess opened up the lane which allowed him to showcase his ability to attack off the bounce.
OTHER INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES
Two of the biggest names in the field, Tyreke Evans and Devin Ebanks, both failed to show their best as American Chrisitian and St. Thomas More fell in first round action on Tuesday night. However, there were plenty of other impressive performances.
Damier Pitts – Hargrave Military Academy: While Bost may have been the tournament's MVP, Pitts was a close second as the backcourt duo was dominant all week. He scored 28, 28, and 22 in Hargrave's three wins and also came up with several big shots through the course of the tournament. Marshall has definitely landed a steal in this guard who will put points on the board immediately upon arriving at the West Virginia campus.
Curtis Dennis – Findlay College Prep: The New Mexico State bound swingman is known by most to be a shooter. And while he certainly proved his prowess from behind the arc this week, he also showed he is much more versatile than many realize as he scored in the mid-range area and got to the rim in the open floor. He had 17 points in Findlay's semi-final wins over Notre Dame Prep and 22 in the finals.
Brice Massamba – Findlay College Prep: The big man made Hargrave pay every time they opted to guard him in single coverage as he backed his defender down with power dribbles and showed an ability to score with either hand. If he can improve his body look for him to have a productive career at UNLV.
Mark Lyons – Brewster Academy: "Cheeks" is headed to Xavier next year where he appears poised to step right in for departing senior point guard Drew Lavender. While Brewster's lead guard isn't quite the prototypical floor general that Lavender is, he can flat out make plays. His ability to create offense off the bounce is second to none as is his leaping ability which allowed him to get up and dunk on several would-be shot blockers.
Emmanuel Negedu – Brewster Academy: He and Cheeks provided the inside-out balance that helped Brewster advance to the semi-finals before eventually falling to Hargrave. Known by many as a Ben Wallace type rebounder, the Arizona bound forward showed his improved skill set as he knocked down two three-pointers and consistently scored on the low post with his jump hook.
Melquan Bolding – Notre Dame Prep: The NYC native nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to give his Notre Dame Prep team an upset victory over Patterson in the first round. But his real talent is being able to get to the rim as his slashing ability helped him score 15 of his 20 points in the second half of that game. Notre Dame ended up falling to Findlay in an overtime thriller in the semi-finals.
Lamont Jones – American Christian: Another local product who shined in his return to the city, "MoMo" did his best to compensate for Tyreke Evans' lackluster performance. He scored 23 points in American Christian's hard fought loss to Brewster Academy in the opening round. After recently de-committing from Louisville local schools like St. John's and Seton Hall are now said to be high on his list.
Varez Ward – Patterson School: With Patterson getting very little inside from Matt Simpkins, it fell on Ward on the rest of the backcourt to pick up their games. The unsigned senior certainly did that as his quick first step and powerful frame allowed him to get into the lane and finish against contact.
Lonnie Hayes – Harmony School: Hayes scored 27 points, although it wasn't enough as Harmony fell to Findlay in a hard fought first round match-up. Hayes is another unsigned senior who caught the attention of the coaches in the stands as he knocked down five three-pointers, scored in the mid-range area, and also got to the rim.