Top storylines of GEICO Nationals as IMG and New Hope win high school basketball tournament

Photo: Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports

Top storylines of GEICO Nationals as IMG and New Hope win high school basketball tournament

Boys Basketball

Top storylines of GEICO Nationals as IMG and New Hope win high school basketball tournament

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The GEICO High School Basketball Nationals came to a close with thrilling championship victories for IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) and New Hope Academy (Landover Hills, Md.)

IMG served La Lumiere (La Port, Ind.) its first loss of the season while New Hope, in its second season as a basketball program, defeated the top two Super 25 teams to take home the title.

Here are some top storylines from the elite high school basketball tournament.

IMG Academy Ascenders forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (10) dunks the ball while being defended by Montverde Academy guard Harold Beverly (10) to win the game. (Photo: Catalina Fragoso/USA TODAY Sports)

4. Last-second finishes in semifinals

If you like close basketball games, the semifinals were for you. Three of the four games came down to the last shot.

In the girls basketball game between St. John’s College High School (Washington, D.C.) and Centennial High School (Las Vegas), ALL-USA Girls Basketball Player of the Year Azzi Fudd drained two free throws  with nine seconds left to win the game. She finished with 27 points.

In one boys game, lockdown full-court trap defense from Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) put La Lumiere on the brink of its first loss of the season. A missed La Lumiere free throw and multiple Oak Hill rebounds resulted in a last-second shot. It was an open look for Cam Thomas but the ball rattled in and out. La Lumiere survived.

In the other boys game, a furious IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) comeback after trailing by 16 points to enter the quarter put them down one point with Montverde (Fla.) at the free throw line and the clock ticking down. Chosen 25 center Armando Bacot grabbed a rebound, saw Villanova commit Jeremiah Robinson-Earl streaking up court, and made a perfect outlet pass to give him a wide-open fast-break dunk with about three seconds remaining. It was a shocking way to get a one-point win.

Bishop Gorman’s Will McClendon #1 in action against La Lumiere in a Boys Quarterfinal game at the Geico High School Basketball Nationals in the Queens borough of New York on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Photo:Gregory Payan/AP)

3. The unheralded stars

Harlond Beverly

The catalyst of Montverde’s opening-round win wasn’t 2020 Chosen 25 No. 11 Cade Cunningham, who had as many points (four) as he did fouls. It wasn’t 2019 Chosen 25 No. 13 Precious Achiuwa, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. Instead, four-star Harlond Beverly scored a team-high 25 points in 30 minutes, going 9-for-11 from the field and making both three-pointers he attempted. He led the team again in points in the semifinals, scoring 23, including this dunk. Montverde lost by one, but Beverly was the reason they were in position to get to the championship.

Alex Cowan

St. John’s girls basketball revolves around Azzi Fudd. That much is obvious even to those watching for the first time. But when the ALL-USA Girls Basketball Player of the Year went cold in the second and third quarters of the first round, Alex Cowan stepped up. She had 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting, made all four three-pointers she attempted and even scored on a drive and layup. Cowan averaged 7.7 points per game this season for No. 2 St. John’s, but with 18 much-needed points in a tight game, she’s a big reason the team got to the championship round.

Bishop Gorman sophomores

Eyebrows were raised when unranked Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) got into the GEICO Nationals after No. 2 McEachern pulled out, but they proved they could compete with the best. While Noah Taitz, a four-star shooting guard, scored 16 points and hit a game-tying three to tie the game with 49 seconds left in regulation, the High School Nationals served as a coming-out party for 2021 four-star players Will McClendon and Zaon Collins.

McClendon, who finished with 22 points, hit a game-tying three-pointer to send the game to overtime. Collins scored 12 points to go with seven assists. Though they fell to La Lumiere, who entered Nationals as the No. 1 team and were undefeated at the time, Gorman put up perhaps the most exciting opening-round game and showed the country they’ll be a strong team for the next two years.

2. IMG Academy wins first national championship

For the first time in school history, IMG Academy won the national championship.

In the first round, the Ascenders scored 17 straight points and held University School scoreless over the final five minutes. In the semifinals, they trailed Montverde by 16 to start the fourth before mounting the comeback capped by the fast-break dunk from Robinson-Earl with mere seconds left. And in the championship, they took down the No. 1 team in the country, then-undefeated La Lumiere.

Their stars showed off their talent on the national stage one last time this season. Josh Green, the No. 7 player in the Chosen 25, proved he’s not just an athletic scorer, but he also impressed with his passing skills. At Arizona, he’ll play next to elite passer and shooter PG Nico Mannion and small forward Terry Armstrong, who also served as a facilitator at times in high school. They could play an exciting brand next year.

Was Bacot more impressive on offense or defense? He banged around with ALL-USA First Team player Isaiah Stewart in the post, managed five-star Keion Brooks on the arc, and his outlet passes were not just good – it won them the semifinals game. He runs the court well, too, and can finish low. Bacot looks like he has the skills to be a college-ready player already. We’ll see him at North Carolina next year.

And finally, Jaden Springer. The junior took over when the team needed it most. In the first round, he scored 26 points – Bacot and Green combined for 10. In the second game, he had 26 again – including making all 12 free throws — as Bacot and Green combined for 20 points. Springer struggled in the championship game, but when La Lumiere cut the lead to three midway through the third, he hit a 3-pointer and it was never close again.

That’s not even mentioning Robinson-Earl, who was named tournament MVP and posted a line of 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the championship game.

IMG was an upper-echelon team this year. With Springer leading the charge next, they could be right back in this tournament.

New Hope Tigers celebrate the 45-34 victory over the St. John’s Cadets to win the 2019 Geico High School National Championship. (Photo: Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports)

1. New Hope Academy wins as second-year program

New Hope Academy didn’t just win the GEICO Nationals.

They didn’t just take down the top two teams in the country to do so.

The Tigers did this in their second year as a basketball program.

It was somewhat surprising when New Hope got selected for the tournament; three of the top four teams in the Super 25 were in, and in choosing the Tigers, the GEICOs passed on teams such as undefeated No. 3 Africentric and conference champion No. 5 Edison.

But New Hope Academy showed they deserved all recognition and more.

In the opening round, the Tigers were seeking vengeance on a December overtime loss to Miami Country Day in the Nike Tournament of Champions. Jada Walker, the tournament MVP, led the charge with 14 points and making three of four 3-pointers. Kylie Kornegay-Lucas made just one field goal, but she had 18 free throw attempts. Jennifer Ezah scored a dozen points of her own. The team forced 12 fouls out of MCDS stars Koi Love, Maria Alvarez and Sydney Shaw.

On defense, Alvarez missed all seven shots from the field – six from behind the arc – and Shaw just 27.3 percent from the field. In all, New Hope forced MCDS to go 6 for 25 from the 3-point line.

That was a wrap on the No. 1 team. New Hope moved on to face the No. 1 player in Fudd.

Again, defense was the key factor as the St. John’s star could never get going. Fudd led the team with 14 points and 12 rebounds, but she went just 5-of-19 from the field. Nobody else could even get a shot off: Two others took six shots, one took five, Cowan missed all three and three players didn’t shoot at all.

St. John’s scored just 34 points. While New Hope only had 45 – led by Delicia Pinnick’s 13 and Kornegay-Lucas’ 11 in 24 minutes – the effort on the defensive end asserted themselves on top.

After going 14-15 as a first-year team, New Hope shocked the world by going 40-3 and winning GIECOs in its second season.

They knocked off the best teams to do so and proved they’re in that same category.

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