Thursday, March 31, 2011 | 8 p.m.
When booking a trip to Bethesda, Md., for the 2011 ESPN Rise National High School Invitational, Findlay Prep had a good chance to be just as busy through Saturday as it was the last two years.
But the pursuit for a third straight national title was ended abruptly on Friday afternoon, and now the Pilots have to stew over a 70-61 quarterfinal upset at the hands of Dwyer (Fla.) High in a hotel before flying back on Sunday.
"They're very upset and down, like anybody would be with as much as these guys have sacrificed to be a part of our program," Findlay coach Mike Peck said. "They're very disappointed and down. But you've got to be a pro, be mature about it."
One of Findlay's objectives is preparing prep stars for the rigors of the next level, and dealing with unexpected defeat is now the goal.
The Pilots finished their fourth season off at 28-4.
In a game seen national on ESPNU, Dwyer showed no intention of backing down physically against a bigger, stronger Findlay team. After an Amir Garrett baseline jumper put Findlay up 14-12 after the first quarter, the Pilots dug themselves a massive hole heading into the halftime locker room.
They were without a field goal in the second quarter until junior forward Anthony Bennett buried a three from the right wing with five seconds remaining. Still, they went into the locker room trailing 32-24.
Peck's halftime message was clearly received, as the Pilots came out and ripped off a 10-0 run to quickly jump back out in front.
The spurt was sparked by senior guard Nick Johnson, who struggled in the first half on a left ankle he rolled in practice on Thursday, and sophomore UNLV commit Nigel Williams-Goss. Both not only scored early, but led the way as the Pilots applied full-court defensive pressure that Dwyer had trouble working against.
The game would remain close until the final minutes, when Dwyer ultimately broke Findlay's back after trailing 56-55 on the heels of two Johnson free throws.
Dwyer senior guard Jacoby Brissett — who is signed to play quarterback at Florida next fall — hit a huge 3-pointer from straight away, then dropped in an uncontested layup off of a Pilot turnover near mid-court. Those were the highlights of an 8-0 run that set forced reality to start setting in for Findlay.
Brissett scored a game-high 30 points off of 11-of-16 shooting.
For Findlay, Johnson led the way despite a rough shooting performance. He scored 22 points, but committed six of the team's 16 turnovers. Bennett scored 12 and grabbed seven rebounds, while Williams-Goss had 10 points and five boards.
It was also a tough day for Texas-bound senior Myck Kabongo, who was a late arrival to the tournament after competing in the McDonald's All-American game in Chicago on Wednesday night. He only played 13 minutes, finishing with two points and three rebounds.
Dwyer's ability to convert off of Findlay's turnovers told the story, as the Pilots controlled the boards with a 44-24 rebounding advantage.
As a team, Findlay was just 17-of-46 from the floor and 2-of-11 from 3-point range, while Dwyer hit 24 of its 48 shot attempts and six threes.
Now Peck and his staff have to hope that their underclassmen get the message from the unexpected loss.
The future still looks very bright for Findlay. Gone after this season are Johnson, Kabongo, Garrett and point guard Kevin Kaspar.
But back as seniors will be a trio of talented bigs — Bennett, Winston Shepard and Landen Lucas — and Williams-Goss, who figures to be the team's unquestioned leader as a junior and showed why during a gritty second half performance on Thursday.
Surely a few new names will pop up on the roster heading into the 2011-12 season, too.
""They've got to stew in it for six or seven months," Peck said. "Losing motivates you. You've got to love winning only because you hate the feel of losing."