April 4, 2009 - 2:38 pm
NORTH BETHESDA, Md. — The inaugural ESPN High School National Invitational Tournament has been predictable thus far, but the suspense level should increase exponentially today when second-seeded Findlay Prep (32-0) faces top-seeded Oak Hill Academy (40-0) for the championship.
The game will be broadcast live at noon on ESPN.
In Saturday’s semifinal game, the Pilots used smothering defense and 20 first-half points from senior guard Avery Bradley to put an early end to the drama, notching a 60-43 victory over local favorite Montrose Christian (22-3) of Rockville, Md.
Oak Hill, of Mouth of Wilson, Va., scored five straight points late in the third quarter to open a 10-point lead in a 74-66 win over St. Benedict’s (24-3) of Newark, N.J., in the first semifinal.
“We’re not done,” Findlay coach Michael Peck said. “We’re not going to be satisfied unless we go back to Las Vegas with the championship.”
To do that, the Pilots will have to overcome a team that can match their speed on the perimeter and their size down low. Oak Hill is ranked first by ESPN, and Findlay Prep, in its third year of play, is ranked No. 1 by USA Today.
“The team that comes out with energy and enthusiasm, but also executes its game plan, makes its shots” will win, Peck said.
Montrose coach Stu Vetter, whose team’s only other losses this season were to Oak Hill, including one in double overtime, said, “You’re talking about the two best teams in the country playing for the national championship.
“You’ve got good guard play, you’ve got size, you’ve just got two outstanding teams, and it could go either way.”
Early in the second quarter, Bradley drove to the basket in transition, and his shot was blocked emphatically out of bounds. That was about the only thing that didn’t go his way in the half as he scored 20 of Findlay’s first 27 points (outscoring the Mustangs by seven) and collected four steals, three rebounds and two blocked shots.
He finished with 27 points.
“I was mentally in this game from the opening tip. I was ready to play,” said Bradley, who this weekend was named to the Parade Magazine All-America first team.
“He was explosive at both ends of the floor,” Peck said.
While Montrose’s deliberate pace limited Findlay’s transition baskets early on, the Pilots still were too quick and created open jump shots. Leading 10-7, they went on a 17-6 run before halftime and built the margin to 28 points in the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs hit just three first-half field goals and shot 27 percent for the game.
Montrose’s 6-foot-10-inch senior center, Mouphtaou Yarou, and junior guard Terrence Ross came in averaging a combined 35 points per game. Findlay Prep held them to six apiece, as Yarou did not have a field goal and Ross shot 2-for-12.
“Our big kids (center Carlos Lopez and forwards Godwin Okonje and Tristan Thompson) did a heckuva job on Mouphtaou,” Peck said. “If you would have told me before the game that he would not have any field goals, I’d have said you were crazy.”
Pilots guard D.J. Richardson, who finished with 12 points, put the clamps on Ross.