NORTH BETHESDA, Md. – Up one with just over two minutes left in regulation, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) shooting guard Allerik Freeman gave St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark, N.J.) combo guard Isaiah Briscoe a not-so-subtle reminder that, among other things, he hadn’t scored in a while.
“Al was saying stuff like he had me on lock and I was too small and stuff like that,” Briscoe said. “That made me a little mad. That got me going.”
Briscoe responded by scoring the No. 4 Gray Bees’ next three field goals to help them knock off No. 1 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), 60-57, in the ESPN National High School Invitational semifinals.
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Briscoe finished with 14 points and five steals in the win.
“I was going hard before he said that so I won’t say that made me go hard,” Briscoe said. “But what it did do was turn on the switch.”
St. Benedict’s Prep coach Mark Taylor said that Briscoe “played like a veteran” over that stretch.
“He just took the game over,” Taylor said. “He was brilliant.”
Briscoe downplayed Saturday’s championship matchup against No. 2 Montverde, saying that the Gray Bees would “be more concerned with ourselves.”
He did, however, offer one warning for tomorrow’s game.
“They shouldn’t talk junk,” Briscoe said. “They don’t wanna turn on that switch.”
When the final horn sounded in Friday’s NHSI semifinal loss to St. Benedict’s Prep, Findlay Prep point guard Nigel Williams-Goss walked away from his bench just past the halfcourt line, dropped face-down on the hardwood and cried.
Williams-Goss hasn’t lost since December 2011.
“He’s obviously pretty down,” Findlay Prep coach Todd Simon said. “He’s a winner, a proven winner.”
Williams-Goss, a Washington signee, is the winningest player in Findlay Prep history posting a four-year record of 127-7.
“You don’t replace that,” Simon said. “He’s the cornerstone of this program. He’s right there with Avery Bradley and Cory Joseph and those guys. He’s that kind of player that only comes around once in a while.”
Williams-Goss finished with 20 points and six assists in the loss. He also had seven turnovers, which was “uncharacteristic” according to St. Benedict’s Prep coach Mark Taylor.
“He’s not a guy that turns the ball over so I was very proud of our defensive effort,” Taylor said. “He’s a great player though. It doesn’t diminish what he’s done there at Findlay at all.”
Findlay Prep lost the game but made the tournament
The Pilots came into the tournament unbeaten and the No. 1 team in the country. It would have been alluring to hold onto the top ranking by avoiding the NHSI. Instead, the team voted to play in the tournament only to see its 54-game winning streak fall.
"You can't be a national champion without playing it," said St. Benedict's Prep coach Mark Taylor. "Otherwise, it would be like the National Championship in college football. It can't be a national tournament unless (top teams) play. Some of us have never had the opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country, so you're never going to get to No. 1 unless you beat them. If they don't come in, there would be a question if they were really the No. 1 team."
The quality of play at the tournament, which includes six teams in the Super 25 and two in the Best of the Rest rankings, has made for incredibly close games. In six games, the widest margin of victory has been six points.
"We didn't have to play this," Findlay Prep coach Todd Simon said. "We knew we were banged up, we knew we were a little tired. We knew what we were winners because it was unanimous that every one of us wanted to play in this thing. I told the kids, 'You get it. Win or lose, you get it.' It's not about taking what you can get, entitlement, taking what is easy."
The Gray Bees are not intimidated by win streaks
St. Benedict's Prep ended two of the longest winning streaks in high school basketball this season. In February, the Gray Bees defeated St. Anthony (Jersey City) 47-38 to end the Friars' winning streak at 83 games. Friday, St. Benedict's ended Findlay Prep's win streak at 54 games with a 60-57 victory.
"Of course, we talked about the streak," St. Benedict's Prep coach Mary Taylor said. "We're streak killers. Findlay hadn't lost in a long time but our boys knew it was time and they did what they had to do."
NHSI final is a Garden State party
Montverde (Fla.) Academy coach Kevin Boyle and Taylor are old friends and opponents. Boyle coached for years at St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) and before coming to St. Benedict's, Taylor coached at Ridge High (Basking Ridge, N.J.) and St. Joseph (Metuchen, N.J.). Taylor said he wasn't thinking yet about Saturday's final with Montverde and Boyle.
"We're going to enjoy tonight first," Taylor said. "Then, we'll try to figure out how we're going to play. I am sure he knows what we're going to do and we know what they're going to do. It comes down to defense and heart and who wants it more and I think it's going to be a great game."
Montverde stops Prime Prep in first semifinal
Prime Prep (Dallas) point guard Emmanuel Mudiay raced down the right side of the court with 6.6 seconds left in regulation, made a hesitation dribble and went right.
But as Mudiay prepared to attempt a game-winning 3-pointer, Montverde (Fla.) guard Jalyn Patterson stripped the ball away to seal the win for the Eagles, 57-55, in the NHSI semifinals at Georgetown Prep.
The play was indicative of how the game went.
The Eagles swarmed Prime Prep’s guards with pressure defense and energy.
D’Angelo Russell led the Eagles with 20 points and three steals and Dakari Johnson added 11 points and 16 rebounds in the win.
“There was always someone there hitting the ball,” said Mudiay, who finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and a season-high 10 turnovers. “They pressured the ball really well. It was tough. When you have 22 turnovers, you’re not gonna win. That’s the bottom line.”
Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said that he felt he could use Prime Prep’s “free style” against them.
“We saw their Yates game and they had a lot of turnovers in that game,” Boyle said. “They’re good at throwing a lot of lobs and getting a lot of energy plays so we were confident that we could turn them over because they play really free, really wide open.”
Russell said that the Eagles purposely kept fresh guards on Mudiay to “wear him down.”
“I feel like it worked,” Russell said. “He’s obviously a great guard so we had to keep guys on him that weren’t tired. At the end, Jalyn made a great play. He’s one of the peskiest guys on the team. It was just a great play. That probably won us the game. We won with our D.”
Russell doing double duty
Russell played 27 minutes Friday, nearly four times as many minutes as he did in the entire NHSI last season. He led the Eagles with 20 points in their defeat of Prime Prep, but it is his defense that has propelled his play. He led the team with three steals and helped force the Spartans into 22 turnovers. It was his second strong outing in the NHSI, following an 18-point, three-steal effort on Thursday in a 77-70 defeat of Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.).
"I think he has played exceptionally in the tournament," Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said. "Last year, he didn't have the intensity on defense. I reminded him that he only played seven minutes the whole tournament. If you don't guard, you don't play. He's getting tougher, more physical. He's one of the best 10 kids in his class when he does the little things."
Russell often guarded Mudiay and had to handle Mudiay's defense as well.
"Russell--he can play," said Prime Prep coach Ray Forsett. "I had my dog on him and he was the better dog today."
Griffey thrives in new role
When Dr. Phillips (Orlando) point guard Taryn Griffey tore her ACL two weeks before the start of tryouts, Panthers’ coach Anthony Jones wondered how life without basketball would affect his star.
Griffey is the daughter of former MLB great Ken Griffey Jr.
“She’s just a competitor so I knew it would be tough,” Jones said. “She loves the game. But she’s handled it all really well. She’s adjusted.”
In the Panthers’ 65-58 win over Life Center Academy (Burlington, N.J.) Friday, Griffey sat on the bench in street clothes and settled in to her new role as cheerleader. She was the first player up off the bench screaming and clapping for her teammates.
“I’m proud of her for that,” Jones said. “She’s typically more reserved and laid back, so for her to get in to the game like that is big for us. The players respond to her.”
The Panthers, who won the NHSI title in 2011, will play Archbishop Spalding (Severn, Md.) Saturday at 11 a.m. in the championship.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSATODAY.