Montverde, Fla. - To get the championship game at the Montverde Academy Invitational Tournament wasn't an easy trek for both Wheeler and Niagara Falls. Both teams had to earn the chance to play for the title on Friday.
Montverde falls to Niagara in overtime
Kevin Sutton, the head coach at Montverde Academy, will get his troops ready for anyone but on Friday night, overtime just seemed to be too much in not enough time.
Montverde sophomore guard Gabi Belardo was fouled with one tick left and down 57-56, he could have been the last second hero if he knocked down both of his free throws.
Belardo missed the first attempt and his second shot had the friendliest bounce of the tournament and tipped back into the rim and through the net to tie the game and send the game into overtime.
That is where junior guard Johnny Flynn took over for Niagara Falls. He sunk home five of his six free throw attempts and finished with a game-high 25 points and the big 70-63 win to advance to the championship finals on Saturday.
Simply put, Flynn brings it. He may be small but he plays bigger than he really is. Quick with the ball and blessed with great vision, Flynn mixes in his scoring with great, crisp passes. His size 14 shoes gives hope to the thought he may still be growing. All medical speculation aside, Flynn is proving that he is not only the best guard in the tournament field, but he is one of the best point guards in the class of 2007.
Niagara Falls also had 14 points from prep school-bound senior Tyrell Lynch. The 6-foot-8 forward began the game with a three-pointer but brought his game in closer to the basket as the game went along.
L.D. Williams led the way for Montverde with 15 points but fouled out in regulation. His fiery spirit was crushed as his teammates went into battle for an extra four minutes of play. All he could do was watch from the bench.
Wheeler, Hickson rebound after slow start
For 29 minutes, it looked like Wheeler was going to be going home to Marietta, Ga., with it's second loss of the year. Then experience came into play against a young, but talented, LeFlore (Ala.) squad.
The Peach State squad rallied after being down by as many as 12 to pick up a big 70-66 win.
James Hickson was working hard in the paint but his guards weren't doing a good job of feeding the post. So what does Hickson do to make an impact late in the game? The big fella snatched two huge rebounds in the closing minutes of the game that lead to two scores.
Hickson scored 16 points but two of his 12 rebounds were huge in the victory. He snatched one of his own misses and scored in the closing minute in the game. Hickson kept up with his must-see reputation. Coaches from Auburn, Florida, North Carolina and UAB were all on the sidelines watching.
You can't fault the effort that future UAB guard John Tiller is going to give. Always hustling and trying to score around the bucket, the senior guard made plays for the Wildcats and came up with some needed scores in crunch time to the tune of 19 points.
Chris Blake has been the most impressive, and intriguing, player for the Mobile, Ala., team so far this week. The 6-foot-5 junior had a team high 16 points for LeFlore against Wheeler and came up with a number of big plays. He showed that he can handle ball against pressure and knock down perimeter jumpers. His strength is his pure athleticism.
What level can Blake play at? That is up to him. At the moment, it is looking like he'll be a high-major prospect.
Odds & Ends
Brion Stafford, a 6-foot-7 forward from Heritage Christian, has been the workhorse for the Houston-based team. While he isn't the most skilled player, he get works hard in the blocks and makes opponents work for everything.
Dallas native Melvin Goins has been a pleasant surprise at the Montverde event. The 5-foot-10 junior guard is blink and you'll miss quick and does a good job of stopping and popping with his mid range pull up jumper or dishing it off to a post player.
Goins said his recruitment has a wide range of schools, including Miami, Florida State, Jacksonville, Alcorn State, Charleston Southern, Memphis and UTEP. Goins scored 20 points in a win over a scrappy Archbishop Carroll squad.
Another intriguing player for Heritage Christina is Jimmy Fleming, an athletic from Memphis, Tenn. The 6-foot-5 junior wing did not play in his junior season at Hamilton High School with Jeremy Williams and Jay Watkins. Apparently his time away has put a fire in his belly.
For the second straight game, Fleming has come off the Heritage Christian bench and provided the team with a major spark with his athleticism and overall raw skills. An absolute unknown on the recruiting front, Fleming could be a guy that catches on at a Conference USA level school or higher. He said his recruitment at the moment is non-existent.
It took a day to realize why LeFlore (Ala.) guard Johnny Mayhanne struggled in the first round of action. The senior is hampered by a severely swollen ankle.
Try this stat on. Solomon Alabi's minutes played against Niagara Falls reads as follows: DNP. The 7-foot junior wasn't hurt either. He is raw and quite simply, not ready for games against teams like Niagara Falls. He has the size and that is why the big-timers are looking but Alibi will take time to emerge as a big-timer. Despite his not playing, Alabi said he has a number of schools looking including Florida State, Virginia, Ohio State, St. Joseph's and Wake Forest.
The old adage of "when it rains, it pours" is so true in Central Florida. Mother Nature was doing the river dance on the aluminum roof of the Montverde gym all day long.
In the house
With the college game slate getting busier for the weekend, it is not a big surprise that the numbers on coaches row was much slimmer on Friday. Auburn assistant Brandon Johnson, Florida assistant Donnie Jones, North Carolina assistant Steve Robinson and UAB's Chris Giles and Matt Zimmerman were on hand for day two of the action.
Mt. Dora (Fla.) 61, Brevard Christian (Fla.) 23 Heritage Christian (Texas) 65, Archbishop Carroll (D.C.) 60 Wheeler (Ga.) 70, LeFlore (Ala.) 66 Niagara Falls (N.Y.) 70, Montverde Academy (Fla.) 63 OT
On Tap Sat., Feb. 4 3:00 p.m. - Brevard Christian (Fla.) vs. Archbishop Carroll (D.C.) 4:30 p.m. - Mt. Dora (Fla.) vs. Heritage Christian (Texas) 6:00 p.m. - LeFlore (Ala.) vs. Montverde Academy (Fla.) 7:30 p.m. - Championship game Wheeler (Ga.) vs. Niagara Falls (N.Y.)