BETHESDA, Md. -- Anthony Bennett knew it all along.
While everyone else had written him and top-seeded Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) off after falling behind by as many as 18 points late in the second half to No. 3 seed Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) in the ESPNHS National High School Invitational title game, Bennett knew it was only a matter of time before the Pilots turned the tables.
With 1.2 seconds left in overtime, Bennett tipped Eagles’ forward Patricio Garino’s inbounds pass out of bounds, clapped his hands together and yelled to the stands, “We ain’t losing fam! We ain’t losing!”
Bennett was right.
Findlay (32-1) managed an improbable comeback late in the fourth quarter to force overtime and eventually steal an 86-83 win over the Eagles (23-3) to claim the ESPNHS NHSI title Saturday at Georgetown Prep, in a game that was nationally televised on ESPN.
It was the Pilots’ third ESPNHS NHSI title in four years. Findlay, which is ranked No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50, won back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.
Brandon Ashley led the Pilots with 31 points, while Nigel Williams-Goss added 17 and Bennett, the tournament's MVP, chipped in with 13 points and eight rebounds. Kasey Hill led Montverde with 23 points and six assists.
“I pulled out everything motivational that I could,” Findlay coach Michael Peck said. “I tried everything, but at some point their switch went on and they got it done. It was all them. It was all them.”
Added Ashley: “This was the best way to go out. We fought hard and we got it done. We never got down or hung our heads. We always believed in ourselves and we got it done, man. We got it done.”
In the first half it was the Eagles who were getting it done, dominating Findlay in all aspects and claiming a 38-29 lead. Findlay’s big four -- Bennett, Ashley, Dominic Artis and Winston Shepard -- combined to shoot just 5 of 17 in the first half.
The Eagles continued to pour it on in the third quarter, beating the Pilots to loose balls, owning the offensive glass and beating them in transition. Michael Frazier made Findlay pay for switching to a 2-3 zone, draining three of the Eagles’ four third-quarter threes to extend the Eagles’ lead 54-39 headed into the fourth.
That’s when Ashley came alive.
He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, overpowering Montverde’s frontcourt in the paint. Ashley drained two free throws with 20.5 seconds left in regulation to tie the game and send it to overtime.
“Brandon Ashley put the cape on,” Peck said. “He was the Brandon he was supposed to be.”
Montverde coach Kevin Boyle pointed out the fact that the Pilots lived at the free throw line late in the game. The Pilots made 24 of 27 free throws in the second half.
“They got a lot of calls and they were living on the line,” Boyle said. “So that means they’re scoring without the clock moving. They fought hard, but I thought they got a lot of whistles too.”
Late in overtime, Williams-Goss hit a floater to give the Pilots an 84-83 lead, then Shepard corralled a miss from Hill, got fouled and made both free throws to secure the win.
“This was pretty fun,” Ashley said. “It’s been a lot this week with McDonald’s All-American Game and this tournament, but we got it done. This was the best way to go out. Better than I ever imagined it.”