NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Perhaps a perfect ending was too much to ask.
Hours removed from a fairytale finish to his team’s semifinal and his own commitment to Duke, Jayson Tatum watched from the bench as the final minutes of his St. Louis Eagles Nike EYBL career ticked away. While he had played up to his traditionally high standards, the nation’s No. 2 player finally ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard, with Team Georgia exploding in the second half to bury the Eagles, 104-77, in the title game of the 2015 Peach Jam.
While Tatum contributed 24 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks, he didn’t get enough help from his Eagles teammates to counteract a deep Georgia Stars roster. Led by 6-foot-8 power forward Wendell Carter Jr., the No. 4 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, the Stars used a balanced, inside-out attack to rally past a deficit late in the first half, push out to a seven-point edge at halftime and pick up the pace as they put the game away. Carter scored 25 points and added 13 rebounds while the Stars were led in scoring by Jared Harper, the Auburn-committed point guard, who scored a game-high 33 points while dishing out 8 assists.
It was a maestro performance from an SEC commit and one of the most promising members of a junior class that has been overshadowed at the Peach Jam by a talented crop of seniors nearing their collegiate decisions. No more. While rumination and debate will continue on whether Harry Giles III or Tatum deserve to be the No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2016, Carter’s performance throughout the tournament — but particularly in the final — staked his own claim as potentially the top player in 2017. The Pace Academy center is a throwback post player, a true low post presence who doesn’t range outside with the skills of a Giles, but who is remarkably effective on offense and disruptive on defense in the post. Buttressed by bulky 6-foot-10 Udoka Azubuike in the post, the duo were virtually impossible to stop throughout the tournament.
Against a St. Louis Eagles team that had come through back-to-back miraculous escape acts in Saturday’s quarterfinals and Sunday’s semi against Team CP3, the Stars found a team that was simply too worn down to put up the kind of fight they likely expected of themselves. It would have been difficult for the Eagles to mount an effective offense against Carter and his colleagues inside as it was, but it proved impossible with Harper continuing his hot streak in the lane and on the perimeter. The high scoring point scored 34 points just hours after dropping in 24 in his team’s quarterfinal overtime victory against D.C.-based Team Takeover.
With the tournament over, Tatum and Giles will finally get a rest, with the duo free to relax after Team USA U-19 training camp and world championships competition in Greece, followed immediately by the Peach Jam. After selecting Duke on Sunday, Tatum can breathe a bit easier. Now he’ll hope that he can bring Giles around to the idea of a future at Duke as well.