John Wall Holiday Invitational: No. 1 player DeAndre Ayton helps Hillcrest Prep claim title

Hillcrest Prep takes questions after their big win. (Photo: Jason Jordan, USA Today Sports)

Hillcrest Prep takes questions after their big win. (Photo: Jason Jordan, USA Today Sports)

RALEIGH, N.C. – Hillcrest Prep (Phoenix) center DeAndre Ayton has no problem admitting that he gets extra hyped up to play against other elite players.

So when Ayton, a 7-foot center who is ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 100, found out he’d be playing Tampa Catholic (Tampa, Fla.) wing Kevin Knox, who is ranked No. 7 overall, in thechampionship of the John Wall Holiday Invitational’s T.J. Warren Bracket Friday night, Ayton was eager to say the least.

“Playing against Kevin was fun,” Ayton said. “But we just had to buckle down and play hard. I knew that if we did that we could get it done.”

He was right.

Ayton scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Bruins past the Crusaders 77-60.

He was subsequently named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Knox, who scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds, took home Most Outstanding Player.

Tai Strickland added 17 points for Tampa Catholic. Josh Green added 19 points for Hillcrest Prep.

“We did what we said we were gonna do,” Ayton said. “To get a win like this is big for our team.”

Knox, who stands 6-8, was tasked with guarding the Ayton, fronting him in the post and using his 7-foot wingspan to challenge shots.

Still, Knox picked up his second foul midway through the second quarter and was forced to sit after scoring just one point in the first half.

Strickland went to work in Knox’s absence, dropping 14 points, including 3 of 4 from the three-point line.

Ayton had 15 points and six rebounds, but the Bruins turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, helping Tampa Catholic keep the score tied at 29 at halftime.

The Bruins turned up the defensive intensity in the third quarter, turning five turnovers into 10 fastbreak points and opening up the lead to as many as 14.

The Bruins extended the lead to as many as 20 in the fourth quarter on finishes from Ayton and run-outs from Green.

“I think overall it was great for us to come up here and play against great talent,” Knox said. “I didn’t have my best game this game, but that’s something that I can work on. Hopefully we’ll all learn from this loss and go back to Tampa and win regionals and states.”

Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY

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