'D' is for dominant
Going into the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., Paterson Catholic (Paterson, N.J.) was nationally ranked but had not yet played a game.
Sitting at No. 35 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50, the Cougars are likely to move on up after knocking off local favorite Winter Park (Winter Park, Fla.) in Wednesday night's championship game, 62-54, before a festive crowd and a live ESPNU audience.
Winter Park (9-3), which entered the tournament No. 25 in the FAB 50, took a 51-50 lead on a 3-pointer by star guard Austin Rivers with four minutes remaining. Paterson Catholic (4-0) took control down the stretch to seal the championship at the 37th annual tournament.
Seton Hall-bound Fuquan Edwin had 17 points and 12 rebounds, but it was Paterson Catholic's defensive effort that keyed the win. The Cougars forced two crucial turnovers and constantly double-teamed Rivers in the closing minutes.
The victory capped Paterson Catholic's improbable run through three Florida teams to claim the title. Its second of four victories in Fort Myers was 61-60 over Penn Wood (Lansdowne, Pa.), but it was a 63-51 semifinal win over No. 26 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) that will be long remembered. Myles Mack, who scored 15 in the title game, canned his 21st point from the charity stripe to tie the score at 47. Montverde had taken a 47-46 lead on two free throws by Haukur Palsson with one-tenth of a second left in regulation, but the Montverde bench was subsequently hit with a technical foul and Mack converted one of two foul shots to send the game into overtime.
"In all my years, I've never seen an ending like that," Montverde coach Kevin Sutton told Scouts Inc.'s Chris Lawlor.
Paterson Catholic became the second Garden State team in three years to win the tournament. FAB 50 No. 4 St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.), which defeated Montverde Academy 64-45 for third place in another ESPNU-televised contest, won the tournament in 2007. Last year, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) defeated St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) for the title.
The Rivers Show (Part II)
Rivers used last year's City of Palms Classic as a national coming-out party, and his performance at this year's event could make him a serious ESPN RISE Mr. Basketball USA candidate the rest of the season.
It had been 10 years since a Florida school had made it to the championship game before Rivers' epic 45-point performance in a 73-60 semifinal victory over St. Benedict's. Last year, Rivers went for 47 against Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) in the third-place game. Rivers scored 115 points in four games this year, an average of 28.8. In the title game, Paterson Catholic "allowed" Rivers 27 points but did not let him dictate the outcome with his long-range shooting.
Even though Winter Park (2-2) came up one game short of becoming the first Florida team to win the 16-team version of the event since a Steve Edwards-led Miami Senior club in 1991, Rivers was named tourney MVP for the second consecutive season.
Findlay Prep unbeaten in Fort Myers
It would have been quite interesting had Winter Park defeated Paterson Catholic in the championship game, considering the Wildcats lost to FAB 50 No. 1 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 86-75 to open the tournament. Because California and Georgia state association member schools are not allowed to play Findlay Prep (for more on that, click here), it was decided before the tournament to place the Pilots in the consolation bracket win or lose.
Coming off a stunning one-point loss to No. 13 Northland (Columbus, Ohio) two days earlier, Findlay Prep received 27 points from Mr. Basketball USA candidate Cory Joseph, as the point guard nailed 5-of-7 3-pointers in outdueling Rivers, who finished with 22 points but was 3-of-12 from long range. Coach Michael Peck's club showed no mercy as it romped past a team from Illinois and two Florida schools to easily win the consolation bracket.
So-so showing for Westchester
Unlike the girls' hoops scene, where teams from California dominated the Nike TOC, FAB 50 No. 6 and top-seeded Westchester (Los Angeles) didn't have the showing it expected in Fort Myers, finishing 2-2.
Before the Comets' 62-47 quarterfinal loss to Montverde Academy, they were 18-1 all-time at the City of Palms Classic, with the previous loss coming last year. Westchester, which lost Wednesday's fifth-place game in overtime to No. 11 Milton (Alpharetta, Ga.) 57-54, won titles in 2000, 2001 and 2003.