LAS VEGAS — The Strip was miles away, but Collin Sexton and Wendell Carter put on a Vegas-worthy show, full of sparkle and panache, in Friday’s championship game for The 8 AAU tournament.
Sexton, a point guard and shooting guard, electrified a packed Spring Valley High gym, driving, dunking and shooting his way to 20 points to lead Team CP3 to an 88-72 win over Mokan Elite. The game, part of the under-17 section of Bigfoot Hoops’ Las Vegas Classic, was broadcast nationally on ESPNU.
Carter, a forward, scored 14 points, and guards LaVarr Batts Jr. and Blake Harris scored 16 and 14 points, respectively for Team CP3.
Elijah Landrum scored 20 points and Jared Ridder added 16 for Mokan Elite.
It’s been a busy summer for the 6-foot-3 Sexton, who this month narrowed his possible college choices to 10 schools including Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina and national champion Villanova. He was MVP on the gold medal-winning U17 Team USA, averaging 17 points, four rebounds and four assists. His performance Friday was just as stellar.
He closed the first half with a flourish, zooming into the lane to scoop up a rebound and score a short jumper at the buzzer. In the second half, his offense and Carter’s defense pushed CP3, coached by the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, out of a tight game and into the clear.
“Man, it was amazing,” Paul said of his team’s performance. “They played hard, they played together. We’ve been having this tournament for years now, and to finally get a chance to win it is pretty cool.
“We picked up our defensive intensity in the end, we started getting some stops. Collin hit a big 3 down the stretch and we didn’t let up.”
Mokan Elite trailed by seven points at halftime, but fought to within one, 53-52, with 10:30 to go in the game after Ridder hit a layup in traffic and followed with one of his four 3-pointers.
But then Carter and Sexton, who were U17 Team USA teammates earlier this summer, shifted the momentum. The 6-foot-9 Carter, whose college list includes Harvard, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina, completed a three-point play after hitting a turnaround jumper in the lane. He followed by flashing defense, intercepting a pass and feeding Blake Harris for a dunk.
Then it was Sexton’s turn. First, he drove the baseline, fighting through three defenders to score a reverse layup. Then he intercepted a pass and slung a 25-foot outlet pass to a streaking Batts for another slam.
Sexton, who averaged 29 points per game for Pebblebrook High School in Mableton, Ga., this past season, said he has been improving at both guard positions.
“When coach told me to distribute the ball, I did,” said Sexton, the No. 26 player in the ESPN 100. “When he needed me to score, like in the second half, I did that. I think I got better at both positions.”
Carter, out of Pace Academy in Atlanta, where he averaged 21.6 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.5 blocked shots per game as a junior, said he was happy having helped carry Team CP3 in the first half and playing excellent defense. He said he’s been mostly happy with his summer.
“I think I played pretty well,” said Carter, who was also the leading rebounder on last year’s gold medal winning U16 Team USA squad. “I do get hard on myself a little bit, saying I could have done better but that’s the past, I have to keep moving forward.”
Carter said Sexton’s energy was the infectious spark that powered Team CP3’s second-half surge.
“We played great together, but he’s a great energy provider,” he said. “When we go off like that, the momentum goes out of the building.”
Sexton returned the praise.
“Wendell is always encouraging, never one to get down on teammates, always wants to uplift,” he said.
He said Paul stressed togetherness, and he kept that in mind. He said he’ll remember the good times he and his teammates had on and off the court.
“Chris Paul came to the locker room and saw what a family we are,” he said.
Carter also said Paul stressed diligence; to play as hard as he could whether it was just his parents in the gym or a crowd as large as Friday’s.
“If you play as hard as you can, things will go your way,” he said.