GREENSBORO, N.C. – Greensboro Day (N.C.) guard John Newman won’t go as far as calling it “a good loss.”
In hindsight, though, Newman conceded that two years ago when the Cougars fell to Montverde Academy (Fla.) in the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals, it was “the best thing that could’ve happened for this year’s team.”
“We were just happy to be in it back then,” Newman said. “Just excited to be in New York and playing ball against big names. We were a little star struck too. After going through it before we just have a different mindset now. We expect to win it.”
The new mindset should help this time around when the No. 19 Bengals face No. 4 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) in the opening round of the DICK’s Nationals on March 30 at 4 p.m. at Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.). The game will be televised on ESPNU.
“We’ve played against some great teams and players over the last few years and we played a tough schedule again this year,” Bengals forward J.P. Moorman said. “We know what we can do if we stay focused and execute.”
The Bengals proved that on March 25 when they clinched their second state title in three years, a 63-60 win against Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.). It was the ninth title in the program’s history.
“These guys all just have a different mindset than the last time we played in the DICK’s Nationals,” Greensboro Day coach Freddy Johnson said. “Seven guys from this team made that trip in 2015 and we’ll benefit from that. These guys took it upon themselves to organize practices and weight lifting after our season was over. This is their spring break and they’re here practicing hard because they aren’t happy with just being in it. They want to win and they believe they can.”
The Bengals certainly looked the part Saturday in their scrimmage against Team Felton (N.C.), one of North Carolina’s top AAU programs.
The two teams battled in four-minute increments to simulate TV timeouts in each quarter. Both teams also practiced end-of-game situations; each taking a turn being down two points with 1 minutes, 30 seconds left on the clock.
It was the Bengals’ second scrimmage since winning the state title. They’ll play one more before leaving for New York Wednesday.
“Playing against good teams like this helps us stay fresh and stay focused,” Newman said. “We didn’t do this in 2015, but we know we’ll have to play a complete game to beat IMG.”
The priorities to accomplish that, according to Newman, are twofold: Boxing out and limiting the penetration of No. 1. Trevon Duval, the top ranked point guard in the ESPN 100, wears the No. 1 jersey for the Ascenders.
“It’ll be tough because he’s a great player, but we know what we have to do and we’re locked in,” Newman said. “Boxing out will be big. That’ll be the key.”
Johnson concurred and estimated that IMG Academy gets nearly 75 percent of its shots in the paint.
“It’s unbelievable,” Johnson said. “After scouting them we know that if they get in the paint we’re in trouble. The biggest thing for us, though, is that these kids believe. They really want it and they’re focused.”
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