Link Academy beats AZ Compass Prep for GEICO Nationals championship

Photo: The News-Leader

Link Academy boys basketball has arrived at the top. A year after falling in the title game, the Lions took down AZ Compass 73-55 to win the GEICO Nationals championship.

It puts a bow on a 27-1 season behind stars like Ja’Kobe Walter and Elliot Cadeau, the latter of whom broke the GEICO single-tournament assists record by recording 29 over the three games.

On Saturday, though, it wasn’t the Cadeau show. In foul trouble, the five-star North Carolina commit didn’t see a lot of time in the fourth quarter. Though it was the four fouls that required him to go to the bench, the play of sophomore guard Aaron Rowe allowed Link to keep Cadeau out until the final few minutes.

Rowe had eight points, three rebounds and three assists, but even that stat line doesn’t tell the story. He hit a pair of difficult shots late, including a contested mid-range and a finger roll around two defenders that sent the bench into a frenzy.

Unlike in the semifinals game against Sunrise Christian, in which Link Academy let a 20-point lead slip away, the Lions did not take their foot off the pedal on Saturday.

Rowe was key to that effort, as was Tyler McKinley, who made a pair of 3-pointers when Link’s offense started to go stagnant. He finished the game with 17 points, six rebounds and three assists, including an alley-oop to break press defense from Compass Prep.

Baylor commit Ja’Kobe Walter, ranked No. 22 on the 247Sports Composite, was once again a star, finishing with 21 points and three 3-pointers, including one late in the fourth quarter in which he created his shot with the shot clock winding down, released off-balance, and drained it.

Link Academy’s defense, which caused seven turnovers in the first quarter alone, didn’t allow AZ Compass Prep to make a real run at the game. The Dragons never fully figured out how to battle the press defense. The size and switchability of the Lions prevented consistent good looks. They stood tall on both ends of the court and won the GEICO Nationals.

The Lions are the kings of the jungle.

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