Columbia, S.C. - For hoops fans in the Palmetto State, the place to be on a cold Tuesday night was the gym at Richland Northeast. In both championship games of the Chick-Fil-A Classic, the finalists were all home grown products as all of the top national programs bowed out early. Mike Jones did it again while FSU bound Casaan Breeden struggled in defeat.
Can't keep up with this Jones
Make no mistake about it, Mike Jones was the best player game to game at the Chick-Fil-A Classic. The 6-foot-7, 210-pound junior small forward from Lower Richland High School was hot again on Tuesday night with 25 points and 12 rebounds in a 53-43 victory over Keenan (S.C.) to claim the Classic I Championship.
Jones scored 78 points and pulled down 37 rebounds in three days, capping off a great tournament with our MVP award and a huge momentum swing for 2005. Jones, a big-time target for a number of SEC programs, put any doubters to rest with his versatility, toughness, rebounding skills, leadership and improved jumper. His game was unstoppable. He's the No. 54 ranked player in the class of 2006 but he played much bigger and smarter than that in Columbia.
Keenan High School, one of the top programs in S.C. had a huge effort from unsigned senior Travis Slight. The 6-foot-4 forward had 30 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
No offense - literally
Four. That's how many points Casaan Breeden's Marlboro County team had in the first half. Yes, four. Obviously, with a struggling offense Breeden and Co. could not rally enough to claim the Classic II Championship. That went to host school Richland Northeast.
The future Florida State Seminole had eight points on 4-15 shooting and pulled down a team high six rebounds. It was a quiet week for the No. 62 rated senior in the country.
Richland Northeast played great high school basketball in their run to the championship. Their top college prospect is Lucas Hargrove, an active 6-foot-6 small forward. The class of 2006 can handle the rock, rebound, attack and play defense. He had 12 points and eight rebounds in the championship game but most importantly, RNE improved to 9-0 on the season.
We'll say this a lot: Ben Finney is a great rebounding guard. The 6-foot-4 junior from I.C. Norcom (Va.) knows how to get himself into position to secure the boards underneath the bucket. He reeled in 15 rebounds in a 69-45 victory over a disciplined Baylor (Tenn.) team and had a game high five assists to go along with his well-earned 17 points.
Finney is a player that will see his recruitment grow after this season. He can score a number of ways and has a great toughness about him that is contagious on both ends of the floor.
Vernon Macklin's play here at the Chick-Fil-A Classic has been the reason why so many fans are buying copies of the highlight DVD but what most people don't see his ability to grab the rebound and quickly get the outlet pass to his point guard for the transition offense. Macklin does a great job of sprinting down the floor for the easy bucket above the rim.
Point in case - Macklin swatted away a shot, grabbed the ball and came down court for a trademark flush above the rim. He finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Rough week for Downey
Even without their big man Joey Cameron, who sat out Tuesday's game against Chester (S.C.) with a swollen knee, Leeds (Ala.) picked up their only win during their time in the Palmetto State.
Cord Robbins scored 22 points and pulled down eight rebounds in a 65-54 victory. The strong bodied shooter has a nice physique and great athleticism that has attracted the attention of low to mid-majors.
Class of 2006 prospect Joey Taylor has generated some buzz in his home state because of his hefty 6-foot-8, 240-pound body and with 11 rebounds and nine points in the victory, he showed flashes of why a couple of SEC programs have inquired. Not an explosive athlete or a guy that likes to grind it out, Taylor must improve his overall game before he can be considered a guy that can play with the big boys.
Devan Downey has completed his basketball marathon. The future Cincinnati Bearcat has played six games in 10 days and that fatigue showed at the Classic. The 5-foot-9 guard did not have his best showing at the tournament but he did show glances of what he's been doing over the last year, and that is score in the dozens. Against Leeds he had a quiet 32 points, if that's possible, and came close to a triple double with nine steals and eight rebounds but no assists.
Downey looked like he just lost a 12-round bout with Mike Tyson all weekend, drained physically and emotionally. Tuesday's game was a return to the Devan Downey, the No. 42 ranked senior in the country, that we know and appreciate.
Boggled down with a tender ankle and a December head cold, David Weaver struggled for Owens (N.C.). The Wake Forest signee just six points and had five rebounds. His two blocks were big time though, both going into the bleachers.
'06 and '07 well represented
The tournament field had it's headlining seniors committed to some big time programs but the youngsters, juniors and sophomores, came to play, too. A number of them either solidified themselves as the top 2006 and 2007 players in the country and some even burst onto the national scene.
Marshall Moses took his game to another level over the course of the tournament. The 6-foot-7 left-handed sophomore showed that he has good enough range to be a consistent shooter from 15 feet and out but he also has an awareness about him to be an effective interior player to boot. He has a soft touch and uses a great jab step move to clear space for his jumper. Moses put in 20 points, nine points and three blocked shots against Dr. Phillips in the third place game.
Chris Warren didn't have quite the game he had yesterday when he dropped a smart and smooth 30 points but his two free throws with 15 seconds to play were the final nail in the coffin for Dr. Phillips (Fla.) in a hard-fought 57-54 win over Aiken (S.C.). He finished with a team high 16 points.
The more we see Austin Steed of Butler High School in Augusta, Ga., the more we like him. He's long at 6-foot-8, he's a good interior shot blocker with his huge wingspan and he's athletic enough to get to the bucket with two dribbles for a flush. Steed can shoot the perimeter shot and score inside but his future is most likely is a small forward. He finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots in a 67-47 win over Pinewood (S.C.).
A number of SEC programs are already on his trail and as Steed gets better, the schools will be coming. Come summer time, he's a guy that high-majors will peek at a couple of times.
To say Eric Wallace was not playing at the level he should play at is an understatement. The five-star prospect from the class of 2007 had another disappointing outing. Wallace, 6-foot-6, 205-pound wing, is one of the most polite youngsters in the country and at times he'll almost play like his personality.
In order to become one of the truly elite, he'll need to play with more fire and more aggressiveness by attacking the basket. Wallace scored 10 points and had just two rebounds in a 59-42 win over Owens, a team that had no answer to his big time athleticism.
Stay logged onto Rivals.com for our final report on the Chick-Fil-A Classic.