MIDDLE VILLAGE, N.Y. – Trailing by 16 points headed into the fourth quarter, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) guard Jaden Springer didn’t know how it would end.
“All I knew was that I didn’t want to go home,” Springer said.
To that end, Springer scored 26 points, including a pull-up to tie it midway through the fourth quarter, to help the Ascenders pull out the 74-73 win over Montverde (Fla.) Academy in the semifinals of the GEICO High School Nationals.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl added 16 points and nine rebounds and Josh Green had 12 points for the Eagles. Harlond Beverly led Montverde with 23 points.
“Wow, I’ve never been a part of something like that,” IMG Academy coach Sean McAloon said. “It’s just a testament to our guys. They just didn’t want to go home.”
The Eagles jumped on the Ascenders early, using stifling defensive pressure to swipe four steals and force seven turnovers.
IMG shot just 2-of-12 in the first quarter and fell behind 25-8.
The Ascenders used balance and a tough matchup zone to chip away at the lead, Josh Green and Springer combined for 10 points to key IMG’s 19-10 run in the second quarter.
Beverly managed three-straight three-point plays and Cade Cunningham drained a three to beat the buzzer to extend the Eagles’ lead 63-47 headed into the fourth quarter.
The Ascenders opened the fourth on an 17-1 run and tied the game at 64 on Springer’s pull-up with 3:47 left in regulation.
Jarace Walker drew the fifth foul on Precious Achiuwa and drained 1-of-2 free throws to give the Ascenders their first lead, 67-66, with 2:45 left.
Trailing by one with eight seconds left, Armando Bacot grabbed a rebound and threw a baseball pass to Robinson-Earl for the game-winning two-handed dunk.
“Oh my god!” Springer said. “That was an ESPN top 10.”
The Eagles will face the La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) – Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) winner Saturday at noon (ESPN2) for the GEICO Nationals title.
“This is the biggest game of my life,” Green said. “It would be the first championship at the school so it would be big for us.”
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