LSU signee Ben Simmons finished Friday night’s double-digit win over Edna Karr with 25 points, nine rebounds and two steals, but if you saw him after the game, the scowl on his face looked as if his team lost. Such is life for the No. 1 recruit in the nation.
Karr gave the USA Today’s No. 1 team in the nation, everything they could handle and held them to a season-low in points, but Montverde (Florida) Academy still overwhelmed the Cougars in the end on their way to a 52-40 win that sent the Eagles to the Championship round of the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic.
“I thought their coach did a really good job with their game plan,” Monteverde coach Kevin Boyle said. “They’re a little smaller than us, so he tried to spread the floor a little bit and move the ball on their possessions to run the clock and make sure it was a low-scoring game.”
After a 30-point win over Helen Cox in the quarterfinals, the Eagles struggled to get much offensive output against the stingy Karr defense, but the Eagles’ super-sized front court made things tough on Karr the entire night and the Cougars were never able to get closer than nine points in the fourth quarter.
Monteverde will advance to play Riverside Academy in the championship round at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“They kind of sped us up little bit,” said Monteverde forward Marquez Lechter-Ellis, who tallied 13 points and five rebounds on the night. “We weren’t really finishing early in the first half; we missed a lot of free throws and open shots. We know what it takes to win, we just had to stay consistent and never give up.”
Though Simmons’ 25-point, nine-rebound night may look good on the box score, Karr made things difficult on the super recruit the entire night with their swarming 2-3 defense. They forced Simmons to pass the ball whenever he caught it in the paint and forced five turnovers.
Once Simmons started to change up his style of play (and the shoes he was wearing at halftime), he began to get more easy baskets, which led to a nine-point fourth quarter as the Eagles ran away with the game in the end.
Simmons started off slow in the first quarter, unlike the 16-point tour de force he displayed in Thursday’s win over Helen Cox. He went 2-of-5 shooting from the field and missed all four of his free throws.
“We just wanted to make sure we kept a body on him,” Karr coach Taurus Howard said. “We depended on our weak side help, but I think we did a good job. I’m really proud of our kids. They battled (Simmons) and we challenged him.
“He’s a very good player. We’ll be watching him in the NBA one day.”
Simmons’ frustration almost grew to a boiling point in the first half. He continued to be forced into mistakes by the Karr defense, his mistakes on the offensive end increased, and so did the zealous of the “overrated” chants from the crowd.
“It’s surprising because he’s going to LSU,” Boyle joked. “You would think they would be praising him.”
Simmons airballed on his fourth free throw in the first quarter and a cascade of “overrated” chants began to circle around the crowd. Simmons responded to the chants by stealing the ball from a Karr guard Darren Hulbert and gliding down the court with three steps before soaring above the rim and throwing down a crowd-silencing dunk.
“We had a nightmare shooting foul shots,” Boyle said. “We also had a nightmare shooting jumpers, too. Everything that we did played right into their hand.”
The Eagles grew their lead to 22-14 with a 10-3 run to begin the second quarter, but as the crowd began to swing in Karr’s direction, so did the score. The Cougars began to force Simmons into mistakes and held Montverde scoreless for the final two minutes of the quarter, but were only able to manage four points themselves down the stretch, as the Eagles took a 22-17 lead into halftime.
Simmons had eight points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field with five rebounds at the half.