SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Just how easy did national powerhouse Findlay Prep of Henderson, Nev., make things look out there against Dallas Lincoln?
As the final seconds of the third quarter ticked off in this Hoophall Classic matchup, Texas-bound point guard Myck Kabongo scooped up a loose ball and cut 45 degrees from the top of the key as he effortlessly lobbed up an underhanded alley-oop pass, which teammate Amir Garrett slammed easily as the buzzer sounded, finishing off an 18-6 run and giving the Pilots a comfortable 53-37 lead.
It was that kind of afternoon. Lincoln, ESPN Dallas’ No. 2 Class 4A squad, boasts two of the state’s elite forwards in seniors LeBryan Nash and Keaton Miles. But where the Tigers matched up favorably in the frontcourt, they struggled to match the speed to hang with the Pilots’ rapid tempo for 32 minutes, as they fell 68-59 at Springfield College’s Blake Arena.
“They played aggressive man (to man),” Nash said. “They’ve got a lot of kids from AAU. They’re like an AAU team, and we weren’t ready for them. We thought we could come in here and just play our game. We thought we could just walk away with a win.”
Meanwhile, head coach Leonard Bishop was finding silver linings in the loss, which was televised nationally on ESPNU.
“They did a great job. I think we had a great game plan for them, and I think the only thing that hurt us was that we didn’t run our offense a couple times, and they scored,” Bishop said. “We knew they were going to be tough, and hard to beat, but we’re pleased with the guys. I’m not satisfied, because of the third quarter, but overall I thought they played well.”
Nash, an Oklahoma State recruit and the No. 12 player in the Class of 2011 in ESPN’s latest rankings, did his part (23 points, eight rebounds). So did Miles, who racked up a double-double (15 points, 13 rebounds) and provided some early defensive spark in the paint. But while the Tigers excelled in the half-court, going toe to toe with bigs Garrett and Winston Shepard (16 points, 13 rebounds) and trailing 35-31 in the break, they stumbled once the Pilots turned up the pressure in the third quarter.
With Kabongo (14 points, 10 assists) leading the press, the Pilots forced the decision-making into the hands of the backcourt and used the suffocating pressure to create a series of easy transition baskets for high-flying Arizona recruit Nick Johnson (19 points).
Overall, Nash and Miles combined for 12 of the Tigers’ 17 turnovers. So while the Pilots played just seven, one got the feeling these guys could run all night at that pace.
“That was one of the points of emphasis at halftime,” Findlay head coach Michael Peck said. “We’ve got to come out, and instead of letting them walk the ball up the floor and initiate offense in a rested position, let them burn a little bit of that 30-second shot clock, so they’re a little bit more scrambled and a little bit more hurried and rushed.
“And also, let’s make conditioning a factor, because we think we have an edge there, so that’s what we did in the second half. And over the course of time, I think it took its toll on them a little bit, and we were able to capitalize.”