FORT MYERS, Fla. — Given the proximity and similarities between IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) and Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), there could be a natural rivalry brewing.
In basketball, IMG wants to be Montverde, but Tuesday night, the Ascenders didn’t have anybody like R.J. Barrett.
Barrett, a 6-7 sophomore guard from Canada, had 30 points, nine rebounds and four assists to lead the Eagles to a 70-66 defeat in a City of Palms semifinal. Barrett lived at the line, making 14 of 18 shots there, and he was primarily responsible for fouling out IMG’s Trevon Duval and Keyontae Johnson.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a real rivalry right now, but they’re definitely a good team and they’re an academy, like us,” Barrett said. “We got the win, so that was good against another Florida team.”
No. 4 Montverde (10-0) now meets Memphis East in Wednesday’s championship game. Memphis East beat No. 10 The Patrick School 74-61 in the semifinals.
Montverde took charge in the second quarter and led by 14 points midway through the third quarter. At that point, the third-ranked Ascenders (9-1) switched to a 2-2-1 zone and slowly worked their way back into the game.
“We tried to slowly funnel the ball to certain areas of the floor so we could get a trap,” IMG coach Vince Walden said. “We had to show some kind of pressure and see if we could speed them up. I thought we did a good job. We all know coach (Kevin) Boyle can coach. We picked good spots.”
IMG had the more physical and athletic big men in Isaiah Stokes and Emmitt Williams, but Barrett shredded the Ascenders’ interior defense and forced fouls.
“He did a good job of getting to the paint and he’s a talented player,” Walden said. “He’s a lefty and sometimes those guys are hard to get out.”
Eagles coach Kevin Boyle said Barrett, at 6-7 and 176, can fit himself into spots that other players can’t.
“R.J. is one of those guys, he’s got a good basketball body, but not over-muscular but lean,” Boyle said. “He’s really hard to guard and not get into foul trouble. He does a good job of going in there and not charging.”
The Ascenders still had a chance to tie the game and with 19 seconds left. They called a timeout to set a play for Williams, who led them with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Williams set a ball screen and then pushed to the basket, but he was well guarded and Stokes, the No. 2 option on the play, took a long jumper that bounced off the rim.
“We won three out of the four quarters, but the second quarter, we lost 19-10,” Walden said. “This game was all that it was built up to be. Hey, they got this one, but there’s a possibility we’ll meet them down the road.”