Published Sunday, April 5, 2009 | 9:02 a.m.
Updated Sunday, April 5, 2009 | 5:22 p.m.
NORTH BETHESDA, Md. – In just its third year of existence, Findlay College Prep won a national basketball championship Sunday with a 74-66 victory over titan Oak Hill Academy.
The victory in the finale of the inaugural ESPN RISE National High School Invitational capped a 33-0 campaign for the Pilots, who were founded by Las Vegas-area automobile magnate and former UNLV center Cliff Findlay in his parents' name.
"I figured it would take a decade, not three years," said Findlay, who attended the weekend tournament with his wife Donna. "I'm excited for the coaches and the kids. They all put in such hard work, and it's great to see them so emotional with each other and their families."
For the third consecutive day, we provided exclusive live coverage of the ESPN Invitational. Here's how the day evolved:
Findlay 74, Oak Hill 66 (Final)
It took a while to secure, but after leading by 17 points early in the fourth quarter Findlay College Prep won its first national championship in the third year of its program.
Tristan Thompson, who joined the program in February from Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict’s, secured the victory by sinking all four of his free throws in the final 78 seconds.
And his break-away jam with 13 seconds left sealed it.
Pe’Shon Howard scored the final points of the game on a 3-pointer from the left side with three seconds remaining.
Issiah Grayson gave the Pilots a 54-37 lead with a three-point play with 6 1/2 minutes left when the Warriors rallied.
They tallied 11 points in two minutes to cut their deficit to 10, at 60-50.
After Avery Bradley’s free-throw-line jumper, Lamont “Mo Mo” Jones drilled a 3-pointer and came back with a coast-to-coast layup to get Oak Hill within 62-55.
And then the Warriors pressed the Pilots, forcing point guard Cory Joseph into a 10-second back-court violation. The media timeout was called with 2:57 left, and the pro-Oak Hill crowd exploded.
But the Pilots had too big of a lead to overcome.
Findlay 50, Oak Hill 35 (end third quarter)
Ahead 30-28, Findlay extended its lead on a 3-pointer by Cory Joseph from the top of the key, a free throw by Joseph and a wide-open 3-point shot by Joseph on the right side.
Pe’Shon Howard drilled a 3-pointer for Oak Hill from the left wing, but D.J. Richardson followed that with a three-point play off a strong drive and with the ensuing free throw from getting fouled.
That made it 40-31 when Warriors coach Steve Smith called a timeout.
As it did in the second quarter, Findlay is sticking with a 3-2 zone defense and Oak Hill is employing a 2-3 zone.
Toward the end of the third quarter, Bradley hit the bench with foul trouble but Joseph and Richardson took over.
Joseph drove in, got fouled and hit the free throw for a 48-35 lead, and Richardson ended the scoring in the quarter with a reverse layin by Tiny Gallon with 24 seconds left.
On Oak Hill’s next trip downcourt, Richardson blocked a Doron Lamb shot with ferocity to give the Pilots possession.
Findlay 26, Oak Hill 20 (halftime)
A three-point play by Avery Bradley with 4:49 until the half gave the Pilots the lead, at 17-15, the rest of the first half.
He followed that with a pair of free throws, and Cory Joseph boosted Findlay’s advantage to 22-18 with a 3-pointer from the left corner.
D.J. Richardson hit a runner and a layup for the quarter’s final points, and Lamont “Mo Mo” Jones sailed away on a 3-point air ball at the buzzer.
“One more half!” Richardson yelled as the Pilots zipped into their locker room. “One more half!”
In the locker room at the half, Peck told his players that they have Oak Hill right where they want them. The first four minutes of the second half will determine it, Peck said.
“We’re in better shape,” Peck said. “This is why we started what we did on Sept. 2, 3 and 4.”
Oak Hill 13, Findlay 12 (end of first quarter)
Up 4-2, the Pilots wasted a sterling fast-break opportunity when Cory Joseph raced down with a 2-on-1 advantage but ultimately fed the ball low to Avery Bradley as Bradley rose to the rim.
Oak Hill scored the next four points to take the lead, Findlay tied it on a runner by center Carlos Lopez and the Warriors took the lead, at 7-6, on a free throw by Tiny Gallon.
Joseph nailed a straight-away jumper to give Findlay an 8-7 edge at the first media timeout, with 3:16 left in the quarter.
Tristan Thompson’s pair of power dunks inside gave the Pilots a 12-8 lead, but the Warriors rebounded and scored the final points of the quarter on Lamont “Mo Mo” Jones’s 3-pointer on Joseph with one second left.
In his pre-game locker-room speech, Findlay coach Mike Peck gave his players instructions and jamming Oak Hill power forward Keith “Tiny” Gallon to thwart the baseball passes he so loves to toss.
Peck told his guards to be leery of Warriors guards who release when they take shots, and jamming Gallon down low could buy the Pilots a precious second or two.
“But we only need half a second,” Peck said, “so two seconds will be like an eternity to us.”
Peck was blunt. He doesn’t believe that the 6-foot-9, 310-pound (depending on the scale) Gallon or the Warriors are in shape to run with the Pilots.
He wants the Pilots to take the ball right at Gallon from the start today.
“To send a message, that you’ll have to play, Tiny,” Peck said. “You’ll have to move your big (rear).”
At the press conference Saturday, someone asked Peck and his team about “the guards being equal” today, what could be the difference?
“Equal?” Peck told his players 15 minutes before tipoff today. “I don’t think that. This is the best team in the country, the most talented team in the country. And there’s only eight of us.”
Finally, Peck said an official told him here that Findlay is not “where Oak Hill is,” that most of the pre-game hype surrounded Oak Hill, with slight mention of the squad from the Las Vegas area.
“To me, that’s a slap,” Peck said. “You can take down the giants today. I know we can. Now let’s go show everybody else!”
Peck and assistant coach Todd Simon have just finished eating a late-morning meal with their players at the Rockville Hilton, the headquarters of the event.
The hotel is a short, straight drive down Rockville Pike from Georgetown Prep, where the tournament has been staged at the 1,400-capacity Hanley Center.
The Pilots will head to Hanley in about 75 minutes. In an auxiliary gym, Peck and Simon will review strategy with their players.
“We’ll go over a few things we think Oak Hill might do,” Peck said, “and we’ll go over one little thing, offensively.”
Warriors coach Steve Smith is 758-44 in 24 seasons, with seven mythical national championships. Peck is 64-1 in two seasons at Findlay.
There will be nothing mythical about today's title winner, however, since Findlay is No. 1 in USA Today's national Super 25 rankings and Oak Hill is No. 2.
It’s been an SRO crowd here the first two days, and today promises to be no different. There might be a dozen Findlay fans here.
The core of that group includes Peck’s wife, Teri, and their two children, close family friends John and Shea Haycock. and Cliff Findlay and his wife, Donna.
Findlay started the basketball program, which is affiliated with the Henderson International School, three years ago, and he’s been in this position before.
A year ago, Findlay was 32-0 when it lost, by two points, the finale of the National Prep Championship to Hargrave Military Academy in the Bronx, N.Y.
That’s not the game that eats at Peck, though. The one that he keeps replaying is a 74-70 overtime victory over Notre Dame Prep in the semifinals in the Bronx.
“I look back on that every day since then,” Peck said after a recent practice. “What should I have done or could I have done? What do I need to do if that comes up again? We had 31 turnovers in that game. It was a rat race, like a summer game.
“We were spitting up the ball, giving it up, running on defense and giving up layups. That wasn’t us. We didn’t do it for 32 other games that season, but we did that one. That bothered me.”
Peck didn’t hold back.
“I felt for the first time that that a team dictated how we played,” he said. “To me, that’s coaching. That was my fault. I look back on what I needed to do.
“I probably should have called a few more timeouts … created a more calming force, switched guys at spots … but we got out of it.”
In victories over Mountain State Academy and Montrose Christian here the past two days, Findlay has turned it over a total of 25 times.