The crowd filed in to the gym early on Saturday afternoon to get a seat for the spectacle that is Montrose versus Oak Hill. Some alumni were even on hand for the game as both Pe'Shon Howard (Oak Hill, Maryland) and Josh Hairston (Montrose Christian, Duke) were in attendance to cheer on the respective alma mater.
The game started out very slow offensively for the high-powered opponents, who in their previous two games had been scoring around 20 points a quarter. Perhaps it was the nerves or the big time stage, but the play was very sloppy on both sides to begin the game. After two missed 3 point attempts by Justin Anderson on the first possession of the game, Montrose got on the board at the 4:14 mark when Michael Carrera sank 1 of 2 free throws after being fouled on a dunk attempt.
When the TV timeout rolled around at the 4:00 mark in the first quarter the score was a whopping 1-1. “We both started out a little sloppy and tense,” said Montrose Coach Stu Vetter. “I think it was the nerves of the rivalry and the importance of the game that got to both teams early.”
Both teams began to settle into their games around the 3:00 mark, abandoning the fast paced, risky transition game that had caused so many turnovers early, for the slower and more efficient half court offense. Oak Hill's early defense caused trouble for the Montrose guards, especially Tyrone Johnson, who was held without a point until just over the 3:30 mark in the second quarter. Montrose seemed to be getting in a groove in the waning moments of the quarter as Justin Anderson answered a 3 from Jordan Adams with one of his own at the 1:00 mark. Yet, after being called for a shooting foul at the 0:48 mark, Anderson was forced to sit out for the rest of the quarter. Oak Hill guard Quinn Cook knocked down both free throws to give his team an 8-6 advantage heading into the second quarter
The Mustangs came out strong in the beginning of the second quarter getting a free throw from Carrera and then another basket from Carrera 30 seconds later in response to a floater by Quinn Cook. Anderson returned to the game at the 5:56 mark after sitting out with foul trouble and immediately made an impact on the defensive end, altering shots and getting in the mind of the Oak Hill big men. After two Cook free throws at the 4:26 mark, Justin Anderson hit a 3 on the other end to tie the game at 12 all with 4:06 remaining in the half. Cook got back to the charity strike again on the next possession, knocking down both free throws to give his team a 14-12 advantage.
Oak Hill got into a full court press out of the free throw, which was immediately dismantled by a Tyrone Johnson full court pass to Kevin Larsen who tied the game back up at 14. The Warriors began a run of their own with about 3 minutes remaining, as junior guard Jordan Adams, who was being defended by Justin Anderson, knocked down a contested shot and then on the next possession freed himself for a long 3 pointer, giving his team a 19-14 lead. The mini-spurt by Adams led to a Montrose timeout, but Adams wasn't quite finished as he put in another jumper for good measure right out of the break. After the Mustangs responded with a Carrera bucket in the paint, Quinn Cook hit a tough step back 3-pointer to go up 24-16.
Just as it seemed Oak Hill would take all of the momentum with them into the locker room, Montrose responded with a run of their own. Going small to keep their bigs from picking up errant fouls, the Mustangs used their speedy lineup to draw fouls and break the press as Johnson sank 2 free throws and a jumper and senior guard Carmelo Bentancourt was able to find Carrera streaking to the basket as time expired on the second quarter. The 6-0 run by Montrose cut the Oak Hill lead to 24-20 at the half.
The third quarter was back and forth the entire way, with Oak Hill striking for a Cook 3, followed by a 5-0 personal run by Michael Carrera who was having his way yet again inside against the bigger, longer Oak Hill players. “Mike isn't always the biggest guy on the court but he always plays the biggest,” said Coach Vetter in a postgame press conference. “When he gets his hands on the ball, the rebound is his.”
With the game tied at 29-29, Justin Anderson forced a steal at the top of the key and then did a European step to avoid the streaking Cook before slamming home a left handed flush just before the 6:00 mark. A Tyrone Johnson drive with 5:40 remaining in the quarter gave the Mustangs a 33-29 lead and brought the large Montrose following to their feet. After a collective slap of the floor, the Mustangs forced a turnover but were unable to convert on the offensive end. When Oak Hill center A.J. Hammonds was unable to convert the free throw on a three-point play, Tyrone Johnson connected with Anderson on the other end for a thunderous alley-oop dunk. Right back came the Warriors with a Jordan Adams 3-point play at the 4:15 mark and then a Damien Wilson 3-pointer to tie the game at 37 with 3:40 remaining.
The 3rd quarter was played at a very frantic pace, with each team going on mini-runs and with great shooting displays on both ends. A Kevin Larsen basket was answered by a Keith Hornsby 3-pointer at 2:25 to give the lead back to Oak Hill. Tyrone Johnson gave the Mustangs the lead back with a drive, but Johnson seemed to struggle most of the night with his perimeter game. What the Villanova-bound guard lacked in his outside game on Saturday afternoon however was made up for by his uncanny ability to weave his way through the defense and get to the basket. “Tyrone Johnson did a great job of reading our defense I thought,” said Oak Hill coach Steve Smith. “I think he was able to split our traps about 3 or 4 times tonight and it's tough to press against a guard like him.”
A very pleasant surprise for the Mustangs on Saturday was the excellent play of Kevin Larsen, who manned the center position while Michael Carrera was in foul trouble. Larsen ended the game with 9 points and 10 rebounds and was a force inside throughout. “Kevin is one of those players who has just been getting progressively better throughout the year and he had a great game tonight,” said Vetter. When asked if they had prepared for Larsen in their scouting report, Oak Hill Coach Steve Smith said they had not, claiming, “he really did absolutely nothing against us the first time we met.”
A Damien Wilson drive on Bentancourt gave Oak Hill a 42-41 lead with 0:35 remaining in the third quarter, and that's how the period would end, leading up to a wild 4th.
The fourth quarter started off with missed 3-point attempts by both Justin Anderson and Quinn Cook. Oak Hill found themselves with numbers on the fast break off of a Mustang turnover around the 6:00 mark. Cook found Keith Hornsby alone in the corner for what looked like an uncontested 3, but when he loaded up to shoot, a hustling Justin Anderson was able to soar in and get a piece of the shot which threw Hornsby off line. After battling inside, Carrera drew a foul at the 5:56 mark and was able to knock down 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game at 42 all.
After rebounding a missed field goal around the 5:30 mark, Justin Anderson was called for a very questionable offensive foul after trying to break his way through a trap under the basket. Quinn Cook took advantage of the call, hitting a floater at the 5:20 mark, but was immediately answered on the other end by a strong Justin Anderson drive. Jordan Adams then went back to work, hitting a fall back jumper to give Oak Hill the 46-44 lead.
Oak Hill then failed to capitalize on 2 Montrose turnovers; one coming from a 3 second call on Carrera and another on a Carrera strip in the paint. On the next two Mustang possessions however, Kevin Larsen freed himself for two nice baskets, giving his team a 48-46 lead late into the game. After an Oak Hill timeout, A.J. Hammonds was fouled and went to the line for 1-and-1. Hammonds sunk both free throws tying the game at 48-48 with about 2:30 remaining in regulation.
Montrose was unable to convert on the subsequent possession and Quinn Cook took advantage of the opportunity, putting in a tough runner at the 2:05 mark to give his team a 50-48 lead.
After a Montrose timeout at 1:53, Oak Hill senior guard Keith Hornsby came up with a huge steal with 1:35 remaining and pushed the ball ahead to a streaking Damien Wilson for a crushing dunk that put the Warriors up 52-48 with 0:35 remaining. On the play, Mustangs guard Carmelo Bentancourt was injured, taking a hand to the face which Coach Vetter later diagnosed as a cut to they eye. “Carmelo got caught in the eye and the defender's finger scratched all the way up into his eye. He's seeing okay but he's on his way to get it checked out now,” said Vetter.
With all the momentum in Oak Hill's favor, revenge looked like it was going to be exacted on Saturday afternoon. Tyrone Johnson had other plans however, as his dunk attempt with 0:31 remaining drew a foul. Johnson calmly sank both shots, cutting the Oak Hill lead to 52-50. On the ensuing inbound, Montrose Christian used the small, quick lineup it had just subbed in to trap Quinn Cook in the corner, forcing an irate Steve Smith to call a timeout. After getting Cook the ball again, Montrose elected to foul the McDonald's All American guard with 0:25 remaining. Going to the line for a 1-and-1, it looked as though Oak Hill had the game wrapped up with its' best foul shooter at the line. However, Cook proceeded to miss the front end of the 1-and-1, giving the Mustangs life.
Tyrone Johnson brought the ball down court and wasted no time driving hard to his right and putting up a little floater that rattled around and through the net to tie the game, much to the pleasure of the huge Mustangs crowd on hand. Quinn Cook, to nobody's surprise, took the ball and crossed the half court line, guarded by sophomore guard Yuki Togashi. Cook waited until about the :05 mark before he made his move and put up a long three which hit the back iron and fell into the hands of Michael Carrera, who instead of calling timeout held the ball to send the game into an extra period.
“The shot at the end of regulation felt great coming out of my hands,” said Quinn Cook. “I practice that shot all the time and it would've been the perfect end to my career, but it just didn't go in,” he said.
On the other side, Vetter spoke after the game about his decision to not use his final timeout on the Carrera rebound with about :02 remaining in regulation. “We are very prepared for overtime games because we work on situational drills every day in practice. So, when it comes to overtime we know what we're going to run it's just a matter of executing our plays.”
Overtime began with a Justin Anderson tip to Tyrone Johnson, who was fouled taking the ball in for a layup. Johnson proceeded to make both free throws and gave his team a two-point lead early in the overtime. On the other end, the intense defensive pressure of Montrose forced an Oak Hill turnover, which Tyler Hubbard was unable to capitalize on from 3. Quinn Cook didn't miss his opportunity however, as he knocked down a huge 3 to give his team the lead back.
After Michael Carrera missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Montrose called a timeout at the 2:12 mark, down 55-54. Whatever Coach Vetter drew up in the huddle certainly worked as Tyrone Johnson again got into the lane, this time spinning and hitting while drawing a foul. He would sink the free throw to put his team up by 2 with 2:00 remaining.
After a missed jump shot by Jordan Adams, there was a miscommunication between Togashi and Johnson as to who was bringing the ball up which resulted in a huge 10-second violation call on the Mustangs. Adams then wasted no time redeeming himself, hitting an enormous 3 to give his team a 58-57 lead with 1:25 remaining. Tyrone Johnson again took the ball in to the trees of Oak Hill and drew a foul, converting on both free throws to once again put the lead in favor of Montrose. Yet, a running drive by Quinn Cook at 0:55 gave the lead right back to the Warriors.
The Mustangs looked to the steady Carrera on the next possession but his shot attempt was swatted away by 6-foot-11 center A.J. Hammonds, who then proceeded to knock the ball out of Carrera's hands on the ensuing inbounds giving Oak Hill possession with 20 seconds left and a 1 point lead.
With 0:16 remaining in the game, Tyrone Johnson fouled Quinn Cook, once again sending the star guard to the line in a 1-and-1 situation late in the game. This time however, Cook converted on both free throws, giving his team a 3-point lead with 16 seconds remaining.
Tyrone Johnson brought the ball up court for the Mustangs with time running out on their season. Johnson tried to drive left but was denied by Cook. The senior guard then passed the ball to Kevin Larsen at the top of the key who turned right and tried to find Tyler Hubbard, Montrose's best long-range shooter. However, Hubbard was being denied the pass and this forced Larsen to look for Justin Anderson, the number two option, who came to the right corner to receive the ball. Anderson collected himself, jab stepped and put up the three with Damien Wilson's hand in his face. The ball looked good all the way and tickled the twine with 2 seconds remaining as a shocked Oak Hill team called a timeout.
“The play was not drawn up for me to take the shot but I was the second option,” said Anderson. “Coach Smith and Coach Vetter run two of the best programs in the country and I know for a fact that they heavily scout each other. So, when Tyler came off and I read that they were cheating on the screen for him, I decided to step out and receive rather than set a potential illegal screen. The second option was for Tyler to get the ball to me but he was being denied so I had to come receive it from Kevin.”
When asked about the actual shot, Anderson called it, “easily the biggest shot of my life. I give all the credit to my teammates for setting it up and to Kevin for finding me. Actually when the shot left my hand Damien's finger caught a piece of the ball and just took a little bit off the shot which was good because I thought it was going to be a little long. But coach always tells us that luck favors the prepared mind and I know how we've practiced these situations before,” said Anderson.
When asked about the emotional toll Anderson's three took on his team, Steve Smith said, “I spent the entire timeout after Justin's three trying to pick my team up. We didn't even discuss strategy at that point.”
With all of the momentum on their side, Montrose came out firing in the second overtime, with Justin Anderson blocking a Hornsby three point attempt on the first possession. On the other end, Anderson found Tyler Hubbard for his first 3-pointer of the game. “Every shooter has a bad night but all of these guys just kept saying that I need to keep on shooting so when Justin kicked me the ball I didn't hesitate to set my feet and fire,” said Hubbard.
On the defensive end, Anderson committed himself to stopping Jordan Adams, which he did successfully. After a missed three by Anderson, the entire team locked down defensively which created problems for the fatigued Oak Hill squad. Michael Carrera was found rolling to the hoop for a bucket at the 1:15 mark, which gave Montrose a 67-62 lead. Damien Wilson cut the lead back down to 3 with 1:00 remaining but once again Tyrone Johnson, after running the clock out, hit a clutch jumper with 0:25 remaining to put his team up 69-64.
“My teammates told me that they were looking to me to lead us to victory and I knew that my job was to run the offense and orchestrate what happened on that end of the court,” said Johnson who finished his career with a 21-point outing. “In the end we ended up with the ball in his hands and that's exactly how we wanted it,” said Coach Vetter.
After Quinn Cook missed a 3 pointer, Tyrone Johnson was fouled and sent to the line again. The entire Montrose crowd was on its feet cheering and screaming. Michael Carrera's father waved the Venezuelan flag as his son celebrated on the court. After Johnson hit both free throws, time expired and the entire Montrose bench gathered at center court, along with some family and friends, to celebrate the Mustangs' 71-64 national championship win.
On the other side, the Oak Hill players looked absolutely stunned. Stunned that they had come so close and once again, in a very similar game, had fallen short to their rivals but this time for a national championship.
“That's the same way the game went last time we played them,” said a somber Quinn Cook. “The exact same way.” “It's like déjà vu with the double OT loss, but this one hurts a lot more,” said Jordan Adams.
After an amazing senior year and a very hectic week, Cook was still very quick to give credit to Montrose for the win. “They made all the shots throughout the game and they won it themselves,” he said. “I haven't had a break in a long time but I'm not going to sit here and make excuses. They won and we lost.”
Coach Smith had a very similar outlook on the game stating, “It was like a replay of the last time we played. I thought we were in good shape at the end of regulation and going into the first overtime. Now, in hindsight we probably should've fouled up 3 with 16 seconds left but I was afraid the kids were going to foul to early. Also, I probably should've put Keith [Hornsby] on Anderson. So there are two mistakes right there on my part. Quinn missed a free throw and he usually doesn't do that, but we also didn't make shots like we normally do and we were outrebounded by a huge margin. Regardless, it's very tough to lose two games to our rival in one year, especially when they're almost identical games,” said Smith.
When asked about the leadership of their senior point guard, Quinn Cook, Jordan Adams and Damien Wilson had nothing but praise for the All-American headed to Duke. “He brought toughness and smarts to the guard position which really helped us out. Plus he's just a fun guy to hang out with,” said Adams. “He's a big brother to both of us and I wouldn't want to play for anyone else,” added Wilson.
“It would've been the perfect way to end my career back home in front of a rival, but I give them all the credit,” said Cook. “I know Justin and I love him. I've spent my last two summers playing with him and he's a real competitor.”
On the winning side, Justin and the Mustangs talked about the feeling of being national champions and how they used criticism as motivation all season long. “All year long there has been a lot of hype into those other teams and we look at that as a gift and a curse,” said Anderson. “It made us work so hard, and I've never been with a group of guys who have been willing to work so hard for one common goal. We all do whatever it takes to win. But to Oak Hill's credit they played a great game. I told Coach Smith that they played a great game and that I sincerely wished him luck in the future.”
“Justin just has a great personality on top of being a great basketball player,” said Vetter. “Expectations for him have always been high, but he's lived up to them. He's one of those players like Greivis Vasquez who fills up the entire stat sheet each game. He's an unselfish player and our whole team in unselfish. We've had four guys average between 13 and 15 points a game this year. That's just something you don't see anymore.”
In response Anderson proclaimed that, “I just really love the game of basketball and my love for it will keep growing as long as I'm around people like Coach Vetter who love the game more than I do.”
When asked about his plans this summer and next season, Anderson was very clear in his approach. “I'm going to be in the gym tomorrow. Nothing serious but I want to get some free throws in and work on some of the shots that I missed today.”
With another whole year of high school remaining Anderson can only get better, much to the delight of the Terps faithful. He'll take a few hours to enjoy this championship but was quick to add, “I want another one.”