NEW YORK –– With time running down Saturday afternoon in Madison Square Garden, Montverde (Fla.) Academy’s players started the chant: “Three, three, three.”
The Eagles won their third consecutive DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals title, handing Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) its first loss of the season, 70-61. The only two constants in the Eagles’ three tournament championships are coach Kevin Boyle and Ben Simmons, who repeated as tournament MVP.
Simmons, after getting poked in the eye in the first half, had only seven points through the first three quarters, but finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six rebounds, punctuating his time in a Montverde uniform with a steal and a dunk for his final two points. Asked what he thought in those final seconds down the court, Simmons summed up it simply: “Three rings.”
The Eagles (30-1) needed more than the 6-9 LSU-bound senior to overcome Oak Hill, which led by nine points in the first half. Montverde senior guard Fard Muhammad had 20 points, including five three-pointers and afterward Simmons and Boyle said that Muhammad was the true MVP of the game.
“We were probably lucky to only be down seven at halftime,” Boyle said. “Fard was able to keep us in the game the first half. He probably averaged 15, 16 points for the tournament and made a really big three yesterday (in a semifinal defeat of Findlay Prep). Early in the season, I had no idea who he was. That he was able to do this shows his character.”
Eagles forward Noah Dickerson, who has signed with Florida, had 14 points, four rebounds and took two big charges to turn the game around.
“For the seniors, this was our last game,” Dickerson said. “We ran too many ladders (in practice) not to come out with a win. We all knew that this is our last game. They came out and punched us in the mouth early and we went out there and punched them back.”
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It was a crushing loss for Oak Hill (47-1), which came into the game as the No. 1 team in the Super 25 boys basketball rankings only to leave with its fourth loss in a DICK’S title game (the tournament was called the National High School Invitational the first two times).
“I thought we played fairly well in the first half and I thought that would continue,” Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. “We probably played our worst half of basketball in the second half. We didn’t play well, we didn’t make shots. We got a little bit out of our offense. Things start turning against us.
“I thought we were the better team. I still think we’re the better team. It’s tough to lose your last game when you’ve won 47 straight.”
Oak Hill was led by Terrence Phillips with 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
“He’s been our guy for three years,” Smith said. “I brought him in as a backup, he knows that. But a couple of guys got hurt and we threw him in the fire and it helped his development. He’s kind of the heart of our team because he plays so hard.”