NORTH BETHESDA, Md. — Four years ago, the Findlay Prep basketball team didn’t exist. Today it sits atop the high school basketball mountain after a 74-66 win Sunday over perennial power Oak Hill Academy in the championship game of the ESPN National High School Invitational Tournament at Georgetown Prep.
By beating the top-seeded Warriors (of Mouth of Wilson, Va.), the No. 2-seeded Pilots finished the season 33-0 and will claim the top spot in both the ESPN and USA Today national rankings. Oak Hill finishes 40-1.
“I’m very excited for our guys,” Findlay coach Michael Peck, who admitted he used his team’s upstart status as motivation against Oak Hill. “There’s tradition and history there. They’re the giant. They’re the number-one seed; we’re the underdog. There’s still people that didn’t think a third-year program could compete with them. We just wanted to knock off the giant.”
University of Texas-bound senior guard Avery Bradley led all scorers with 20 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“I’m so blessed that I had this opportunity,” Bradley said afterwards. “I’m just so happy that my teammates and me were able be together and do this.”
“You’ve got to give Findlay credit,” Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. “They’re a good team, long, athletic. That’s not a normal high school zone they had. They were tough over the top, tough on the reverse, tough on the different plays you’d want to make, and they made it tough to get in the lane.”
The Pilots, who led 26-20 at halftime, used the heretofore 3-2 zone defense and superior guard play to break open a close game in the third quarter. Leading 30-28, Findlay went on a 20-7 run sparked by five straight points from junior guard Corey Joseph to close the quarter up by 15.
Findlay’s last game prior to the tournament was in February, and Peck used the downtime to fine tune the zone defense.
“The zone was something we’d been sitting on; nobody had seen us do it,” Peck said. “When you go against the best team in the country, you’re gonna need it. If a team is big-man oriented, and their perimeter shooting isn’t as good, I’m gonna force you to beat me where you don’t want to beat me, and that’s making perimeter jump shots.”
Said Bradley: “Today, I could see that (6-foot-9-inch Oak Hill senior center and Oklahoma recruit Keith) Tiny (Gallon) was getting frustrated by it. I told coach, if he’s not getting the ball we should stay in the zone.”
The Warriors shot 36 percent from the field. Junior guard Pe’Shon Howard led Oak Hill with 19 points. Senior Lamont Jones scored 16 but hit only 7 of 22 shots, often settling for long range jumpers against the Findlay zone.
The Pilots built the lead to 17 early in the fourth quarter, and Peck opted not to take his foot off the gas. Oak Hill pressed the pace, hit a few 3-pointers and put together a run.
With Findlay starters Bradley and Carlos Lopez fouling out, the Warriors twice cut their deficit to five in the final 2:30.
“We decided we had to make things a little crazy there,” Smith said. “We went straight man defense, pressed a little bit and trapped where we could.”
“I told them, ‘Calm down, we’re fine. You guys are the better team today, I know it, you guys know it. We just gotta be smart now, because what they’re doing is nothing we haven’t seen,’ ” Peck said he told his team as their lead dwindled.
Findlay regained its poise, made a few stops on defense and made 8 of 10 free throws (including 5 of 7 by reserve guard Issiah Grayson) to seal the win.
Bradley was joined on the all-tournament team by backcourt mates Joseph (18 points in the final) and senior D.J. Richardson (11 points), who was playing his final game. He will attend Illinois in the fall.
“He does things you can’t teach,” Peck said of Joseph, who scored several clutch baskets.
Richardson, who Peck praised for his perimeter defense, averaged 11 points per game in the tournament.In-depth high school sports coverage