Forty-five minutes after the game had ended Saturday night, Ben Simmons was still signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans in the lobby of the Alario Center.
Many of those fans had no clue who the Montverde (Florida) Academy forward was just three days ago.
Now they do.
The LSU signee and the nation’s top-rated senior had just put the exclamation point on the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic.
Simmons erupted in the second half and finished with a season-best 39 points to lead Montverde to a 92-75 victory over Riverside Academy.
It denied a tournament repeat for the Rebels (11-4), ranked No. 1 in The New Orleans Advocate Super 10.
“We shut Ben out in the (first) quarter and I don’t think anyone has done that,” Riverside coach Timmy Byrd said. “Then he showed how good he is. He is the No. 1 player in the country and he will probably be the $100 million man in the future, and he showed why. He’s a dominant player.”
Simmons had just nine points in the first half as Montverde built a 38-33 lead in a game played before a packed crowd that included New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis.
“I had a slow start,” Simmons said. “I had to pick it up and went into the locker room and refocused.”
Then he exploded for 16 points in the third quarter.
He capped the quarter with a 3-pointer from halfcourt at the buzzer, turning a 63-57 lead to a 66-57 lead.
“I thought Ben stepped up to the level he can in the second half,” said Montverde coach Kevin Boyle, whose team is ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Today.
Simmons was an easy choice for tournament Most Valuable Player after averaging 32.3 points in the three wins.
A few fans even broke out chants of “LSU, LSU” after he accepted his MVP trophy.
“I just came here to win,” Simmons said when asked about his season-best in points.
But this one wasn’t easy.
Riverside senior guard Malik Crowfield kept the Rebels in it early, burying five 3-pointers in the first half. Crowfield hit three straight during one stretch in the first quarter to help Riverside climb out of a 34-20 hole. He scored all 17 of his points in the first half that ended with the Rebels trailing 38-33 at halftime.
“We felt good at halftime where we were,” Byrd said. “We knew Herb (McGee) and Jordan (Andrews) and Von (Julien) would start scoring. We didn’t count on the foul trouble, though. We can’t go deep in our bench and expect to beat a good team like Montverde. It’s just not going to happen.”
Crowfield cooled off in the second half, but his teammates picked up the slack.
Julien scored 13 of his team-high 21 points in the second half. McGee finished with 15 and Andrews had 12.
“I think this is the hardest we have ever played,” Julien said. “Because of the competition we knew we had to. We gave them our all trying to let them know who we are and to make a name for ourselves. It was a tough challenge.”
Riverside got as close as 68-62 with 6:46 remaining on a McGee free throw, but could get no closer.
“We are not into moral victories,” Byrd said. “I am proud of my kids though. They fought hard.”
The two teams could meet again in late January when Riverside travels to Florida to play in the Montverde Tournament.
Marqez Lechter-Ellis scored 18 points and Marcel Ponitka had 14 (four 3-pointers) for the Eagles, who withstood a night when Riverside made 12 3-pointers.
“It’s hard when everyone is coming at you, knowing you are the No. 1 player and on the No. 1 team in the country,” Simmons said. “Everybody is coming at you like it’s their last game or it’s the championship.”