WHEELING, W.Va. – Even more than the chance to compete against another top 10 team, La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) forward Jaren Jackson Jr. was excited to play against No. 8 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) for the opportunity to put a period where doubters put a question mark following the Lakers’ No. 1 ranking.
“We know we’re No. 1, but some people think it may be another team,” Jackson said. “Being who we are and being who Findlay is, they may get the benefit of the doubt. We didn’t want to leave any doubt.”
Jackson scored 24 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked two shots to lead the Lakers past the Pilots 69-54 Saturday at the Cancer Research Classic.
Brian Bowen added 15 points and six rebounds for La Lumiere and P.J. Washington led Findlay Prep with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists.
“This is just a special team because they’re all so unselfish,” La Lumiere coach Shane Heirman said. “We had some guys that didn’t have great games or didn’t play a lot late in the game, but they were the biggest cheerleaders in the locker room after the game. That’s the type of stuff you need to succeed.”
Neither team could separate itself early; after the first quarter the score was tied at 14.
The Lakers caught fire in the second quarter and took their largest lead 30-22 on a three from Kevin Zhang with 2:31 left in the half.
The Pilots only had one turnover in the first half, but the Lakers won the battle on the boards 26-12 to take a 34-28 halftime lead.
Donnie Tillman, Findlay Prep’s second leading scorer (16 ppg.) and rebounder (8 rpg.), was on crutches with a sprained knee, which he suffered in Findlay’s win over First Love Christian (Washington, Penn.) at the Classic on Friday.
“Rebounding was the focus for the game because we weren’t gonna come out of that zone,” Heirman said. “We knew that we had to be tough and it was gonna come down to two-handed rebounding and securing the ball. That’s what our guys did.”
The Lakers stepped up their defensive pressure early in the second half and turned Findlay Prep’s misses into run-out transition scores to push the lead to 50-33.
The Pilots cut it to nine early in the fourth quarter, but Jackson answered by completing a four-point play to extend the lead late.
“I didn’t rest until there was about 10 seconds left,” said Jackson, a Michigan State signee. “This was a big win, but all it means for us now is that we’ve got more work to do. All I can say is we’ll see y’all at DICK’s Nationals. That’s all I want to say.”
Heirman said the convincing win was a “responsibility of being No. 1.”
“It’s something that we’re not gonna relinquish easily,” he said. “It’s a big win, there’s no doubt. We’ll enjoy it tonight, but tomorrow we’re preparing for a big test at the Hoophall Classic.”
La Lumiere faces Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.), led by No. 1 overall junior Marvin Bagley, on Jan. 16 in Springfield, Mass.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY