MIDDLE VILLAGE N.Y. – After a dreadful first half offensively, La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) went on a run to open the second half and withstood a furious fourth quarter rally to defeat Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 54-52 in the second semifinal of the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals on Friday.
La Lumiere – ranked No. 2 in the Super 25 – went on a 15-0 run immediately out of the halftime break, en route to a dominant third quarter in which they outscored Findlay 24-7 to take a 44-32 lead into the fourth. But Findlay mounted a huge fourth quarter comeback to cut the deficit to 1, after trailing by as many as 15.
The Pilots, though, couldn’t quite get over the hump. With six seconds remaining and his team down one, Findlay’s Tony Goodwin missed a pair of free throws. The Pilots had another chance with the ball down two, but were unable to get a shot off before the horn sounded.
Brian Bowen – who struggled from the floor in the first half, going just 1-for-9 – played a crucial role in the Lakers’ second half surge. The senior forward, ranked No. 12 in the ESPN 100, led all scorers with 19, and contributed a few highlight reel plays along the way. With 2:58 gone by in the third, Bowen made a spectacular adjustment on an alley-oop pass that was too high, and managed to tip it in off the glass. He also came up with a tough rebound and putback inside with 2:38 remaining to help slow a late push by Findlay.
Bowen did, however miss a crucial free throw with 28 seconds left – one of three times in the final minute that the Lakers missed the front end of the 1-and-1.
La Lumiere coach Shane Heirman was pleased by his team’s ability to overcome the late misses.
“I think it speaks a lot to the character of this team,” Heirman said. “There’s a resiliency. It would’ve been nice to make some free throws down the stretch. But the kids found a way. And that’s this team. They’re tough. They’re focused. And they have incredible will.”
Jacob Epperson was a force defensively for the Lakers. Findlay had difficulty getting a good look inside thanks to his presence in the middle. The 6-11 senior blocked 6 shots for La Lumiere – part of the team’s 9 blocks overall.
Heirman said he learned a great deal from the team’s first meeting with Findlay on Jan. 7 at the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W. Va. That night, the Lakers prevailed 69-54, and Heirman thought his team’s size was a big part of the reason for the victory.
“Obviously, they were able to capitalize a few times on some second chance things,” Heirman said. “But overall, Jacob, Jaren (Jackson), Franklin (Agunanne) played really well. I thought our length really bothered them.”
Kentucky signee PJ Washington never quite got on track Friday. The star senior did lead his team with 13 points, but went 5-for-13 from the floor, and 3-for-14 from the line, while as a team Findlay went 14-for-35 from the line.
Findlay coach Paul Washington – father of PJ – said that his son’s troubles from the stripe were the product of fatigue after having played in the McDonald’s All America Game in Chicago on Wednesday.
“Your legs are just going to give out at some point,” Paul Washington said. “And today they just happened to do it.”
Despite the stinging defeat, Coach Washington struck an upbeat tone – saying he felt his team had given a maximum effort.
“I’m okay if you give me everything you got and we end up not winning,” Paul Washington said. “And that’s what happened tonight. Every single one of them gave me everything they had. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”