After grinding out a 64-59 win against the 8th seeded Patriots of John Carroll on Thursday afternoon, the Mustangs of Montrose were matched up against a very athletic team in Boys & Girls, who had defeated Austin Rivers' Winter Park (Winter Park, FL) squad in the first round of play.
Seniors Malik Nichols and Michael Taylor led Boys and Girls, the #24 ranked team in the nation. Nichols is headed to Hofstra to play basketball next year, while Taylor will be taking his talents to Rutgers.
From the tip of the ball the shooting abilities of both squads were on display as both teams came out firing. With Justin Anderson, a 6-foot-6 lockdown defender guarding Michael Taylor, and with Nichols on Anderson, many were expecting a slow, grinding game. Yet, it turned out to be anything but that. Boys and Girls started off the game on fire from behind the arc as they converted on their first three 3 point attempts. Fortunately for the Mustangs, senior guard Tyler Hubbard was able to answer with a three of his own and then found junior center Michael Carrera under the basket for a three-point play that kept the score knotted at 9 early.
Around the 6:00 mark, Michael Taylor struck again from three, tallying his second three of the quarter. However, Tyler Hubbard of Montrose was again able to answer Taylor's hot hand with another three of his own keeping the game tied about halfway through the first quarter. Justin Anderson got his name into the box score at the 5:20 mark as Tyrone Johnson found him cutting to the basket on the press break for a crafty lay in.
Both teams seemed to be trading baskets in the first quarter, as the lead would change with each possession but it wasn't due to a lack of defense. Both teams were executing their offense very well and as a result were getting great looks at the basket.
Coming off of a screen, Justin Anderson sank a long three pointer at the 4:30 mark to tie the game at 14 all. He then proceeded to track down a streaking Michael Taylor and soar in to grab a difficult rebound. The real story of the first half however, was the incredible physical play of center Michael Carrera who was having his way with the smaller Boys & Girls players. Around the 4:00 mark, Carerra collected a rebound off of a missed shot and proceeded to collect 3 more offensive rebounds off of his own missed shots before finally getting fouled. He then managed to sink both free throws and put his team up 16-14. The stunning showing by Carrera brought the Mustang fans to their feet and led Justin Anderson to let out an enormous roar of approval.
After a few basket-less possessions by both teams, Taylor caught fire again sinking another long-range shot. Yet on the subsequent possession by Montrose, Anderson was able to wiggle himself free from Nichols airtight defense and knocked down a contested three. Shortly thereafter Anderson's teammate, Tyrone Johnson, broke the press and laid in a bucket which led to a timeout by Boys & Girls coach Ruth Lovelace. Dancing into the timeout, the entire Mustangs team was excited, knowing that they had temporarily seized control of this back and forth matchup. Carmelo Bentancourt's driving layup put Montrose up 27-24 to end the first quarter, but not before some extracurricular activity occurred.
Right before the end of the first quarter, both Justin Anderson and Malik Nichols were given warnings by the referee after the two ended up jawing and on top of each other in the corner of the court while jockeying for position away from the ball. That's just the game, said Anderson. A lot of people talk trash, but it's nothing personal. I was in his ear too but at the end of the game we both congratulated each other on a great game and wished each other the best in the future.
Boys & Girls really stuck with the deeper Montrose team in that first quarter, thanks in large part to their phenomenal shooting which allowed them to weather the blows of the much bigger Mustangs team. Boys & Girls came out and had a great start, said Montrose Coach Stu Vetter. They shot the ball phenomenally in the first quarter and really hung with us there for a little.
The second quarter however, was a much different story than the first, as Montrose's size and depth on the bench began to wear away at the Kangaroos. Shortly before Boys & Girls made the trip to the NHSI, four of their players from the back-to-back city championship teams were left off of the roster due to academic penalties imposed by Coach Lovelace. As a result, the bench was very limited and 4 of their players were on the court for 29+ minutes.
Montrose Christian broke open the second quarter on a run, starting with a Tyrone Johnson steal and 3-pointer and followed by a Justin Anderon lay in at the 6:45 mark. The defensive efforts of Montrose and their ability to constantly sub in fresh legs began to wear on the Boys & Girls shooters, especially Taylor who jacked up a few questionable shots in the quarter. We settled down from the first quarter on and I thought we were outstanding defensively, claimed Coach Vetter. The first quarter they were making wide open shots because we weren't contesting them. We thought they were going to penetrate and so we had prepared for that but we didn't think they could shoot quite as well as they did.
The immovable force down low, Michael Carrera, went back to work in the second quarter, collecting rebound after rebound and getting put back points left and right. I've coached a lot of great rebounders over the years and Michael Carrera is one of the best. He has greats hands, he's relentless on the boards and he has great basketball hands. He responded very well to the physicality Dwyer presented inside, said Coach Vetter. There was a point about half way through the quarter where the Boys & Girls press began to frustrate Montrose, but a Justin Anderson block followed by a Tyrone Johnson three at the 4:25 mark gave the momentum right back to the #1 seed.
What worked for Boys & Girls in the first quarter, the long range shot, was not working in the second, as the Mustangs made a few adjustments to limit the Kangaroo's looks. We started having guys hedge over the screens and get hands in the shooter's face because we were slouching in the beginning and they were hitting wide-open shots, said Vetter.
A Kevin Larson 3-point play with 0:38 remaining and a stifling press allowed the Mustangs to close out the half strongly, taking a 42-33 lead into the locker room at halftime. Carrera ended the half with 9 points and 13 rebounds while Anderson tallied 12 points and 5 boards.
The third quarter was when Montrose really began to pull away from their opponent. Tyler Hubbard, a pure shooter for the Mustangs, knocked down a bank shot 3 to start off the quarter, followed by a Carrera put back at the 6:30 mark. Anderson really made a visible commitment from the beginning of the second half to lock down Taylor, who had scored 14 points in the first half. Taylor struggled to get off any good looks with the incredibly athletic Anderson constantly in his face.
An unsung hero on a team of stars, senior guard Tyler Hubbard came up huge multiple times in the game for Montrose. Hubbard's jumper at the 5:33 mark sent the crowd into a frenzy as Montrose had built their largest lead of the game at 49-33. Hubbard began to look for his shot, knocking down another three pointer out of the 5:00 media timeout. Tyler is one of the best shooters ever to come through Montrose Christian and I think he's proven that he's the best shooter in the area, praised Coach Vetter.
One of the main reasons Montrose was able to take control in the second half was the intense full court defensive pressure they were applying to the frazzled Boys & Girls guards. After forcing Taylor into a press trap, Justin Anderson was able to free himself for a highlight reel slam around the 3:00 mark. On the opposite side of the ball, speedy Mustang guard Tyrone Johnson was like a one man press break, weaving his way in and out of traps and cutting to the basket for easy lay ins. When the melee had ended, Montrose held a 62-45 lead heading into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter was much of the same. Boys & Girls began to lose its composure late into the game, with errant fouls and multiple forced shots being thrown up. Anderson and Johnson picked apart the press and had their way getting to the basket, capitalized by a huge Justin Anderson slam at the 3:30 mark. After a few nice plays and a beautiful behind the head assist at the 1:30 mark, Anderson was taken out to a roaring ovation at the 1:20 mark. He ended the game with 18 points and 6 rebounds on 8-13 shooting. The Mustangs reserves wrapped up the 83-61 win in the final minute of the contest.
Yesterday even though we won, I didn't really feel like I had my game rhythm back but finally today I got that rhythm back and my shots started to get back on line, said Anderson. Things started to go well for me. I crashed well and I was just able to do the little things to help my team.
The Mustangs ended the game with 4 players going for 15+ points with Anderson (18), Hubbard (18), Johnson (15) and Carrera (15). It was a balanced attack today for us and that's why we were clicking so well. Everyone was doing their job and as a result we all got great looks at the basket, said Anderson.
After the Mustang's thorough beat down of Boys & Girls the attention quickly turned to the game following which pitted Oak Hill versus Dwyer for the right to meet Montrose for the national championship on Saturday afternoon.
In the second semifinal of the day Dwyer broke out to an early lead, frustrating the bigs for Oak Hill and creating easy baskets with their full court fast paced offense. The game was close throughout, with Oak Hill taking a 3-point lead into the final seconds. Out of the timeout, Dwyer drew up a play to get Gregory Lewis a game tying three. When Lewis collected the ball at the top of the key and pump faked, he drew the arm of Oak Hill center A.J. Hammonds, who appeared to hit the hand of Lewis, but there was no foul called. After turnovers on both sides, Quinn Cook of Oak Hill knocked down 1 of 2 free throws to give his team a 3-point lead with about 10 seconds remaining. Dwyer had two looks but was unable to convert, giving Oak Hill the 76-73 win. Victor Adams finished the game with 20 for Dwyer while Jacoby Brissett chipped in with 16. On the winning side, Quinn Cook led all scorers with 29 points while Keith Hornsby and Damien Wilson each had 15.
With the win the stage was set for Saturday's championship between two fierce rivals in Oak Hill and Montrose Christian. The two met earlier this season in January, where Montrose ultimately prevailed by 6 in double overtime. It's gonna be a big time matchup because the starting lineup is probably going to have 10 future Division 1 players in it, said Oak Hill Coach Steve Smith. It's a rivalry but both teams respect each other and it's a big game for both of us. If we play well, I think we're the better team and we can pull it out. We'll see how it goes tomorrow.
The loss earlier in the season just gives us that more motivation to win this game tomorrow because I can honestly say that first game they wanted it more than we did. But I can also guarantee you that tomorrow they won't want it more than we do, said Oak Hill guard Quinn Cook. We've been talking about this tournament for a long time and we want a chance to redeem ourselves.
On the Montrose side, all thoughts are on taking home a national title, as Anderson took on the role of leader in the press conference and deflected questions after the game about next season. Right now all we are focused on is winning a national championship tomorrow and sending our seniors out as champions. Nothing else matters but the game tomorrow and that's the mindset our whole team has, said Anderson.
These two teams are all too familiar with each other, squaring off every year in games that have often become classics. Yet, they have never faced off for a national championship. With the incredible focus and determination each team is showing, it looks like Saturday's battle is going to be one for the ages.