As the No.5 seed in the Lash-Chronicle Holiday Classic, Winston-Salem Prep felt overlooked and disrespected. Coach Bill Tibbs was convinced that based on recent history, his team deserved a much higher seeding in junior varsity basketball’s marquee event in Forsyth County. The Phoenix, winners of the 2011 tournament, have made the final in each of the last three years.
That’s why Prep entered the tournament with a huge chip on its shoulder. To prove its point, the Phoenix turned up the pressure at both ends of the floor and posted a 84-74 win over No. 3 seed Mount Tabor in last week’s L-C championship game at Carver High School.
“I used it (tournament seeding) as motivation and that grabbed everybody’s attention,” said Tibbs, whose team has won two Lash-Chronicle titles in the last three years. “We jumped on them early and kept the pressure going all game long. Our team really grew up tonight.”
The Phoenix took Mount Tabor out of its offensive rhythm from the opening tip with a relentless full-court trap that caused a rash of early-game turnovers. Offensively, Prep (8-0) pushed the tempo with guards Chrishawn Watson (30 points) and Josh Gould (11 points) doing their share of the damage. Watson was close to unstoppable as a three-point shooter who’s equally adept at creating his own shot, or making a pass to an open teammate.
“Chrishawn is a tough, hard-nosed player who knows how to score,” said Tibbs. “He’s played in a lot of big AAU games, so this (Lash-Chronicle) was not too big of a stage for him. As things turned out, we needed every point he gave us.”
Aside from Watson, the Phoenix got a stellar performance from 6-feet-3 post player Kendrick Edwards, who was voted Tournament MVP. Edwards contributed 22 points, 19 rebounds and four blocked shots in the final.
“We were mad about being the No. 5 seed,” said Edwards. “So, we did something about it and proved that we’re the best. My focus was to keep rebounding and keep taking on defense.”
Mount Tabor (7-2) never fully recovered after being down 10-2 in the opening minutes of the first quarter. Edwards spearheaded the Phoenix defense and gave his team a big lift on the offensive glass, which helped Prep build a 40-28 lead by the end of the first half.
“Kendrick is a game-time player who anchors everything we do on offense and defense,” said Tibbs. “Since he played with us last year, he knows the system, knows what to do and how I want it done.”
Prep kept its double-digits lead until late in the third quarter, when Mount Tabor’s Olyfemi Boko scored on a twisting lay-up to cut the Phoenix lead to 52-41. With five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Spartans made what appeared to be a decisive run and trailed by only four points at 58-54.
But over the next three minutes, Mount Tabor was victimized by poor free-throw shooting (converted just 3-of-8 foul shots during that stretch). The Phoenix, in the meantime, went 10-of-14 from the foul line to maintain its comfortable cushion.
“Missed free throws were huge for us,” said Mount Tabor Coach Rich Brendle. “Prep is a great team and they match-up well against us. If we played 10 times, each team probably wins five games. Tonight, they were 10 points better. We really hurt ourselves when we didn’t match their intensity at the start of the game.”
In spite of their lack of offensive balance, the Spartans managed to stay within striking distance. Cayse Minor poured in 30 points to lead the way, but was slowed considerably after suffering an ankle injury with 5:35 left in the game. Boko and Isaiah Penn chipped in with 11 points each.
“We’re not a one-man show,” said Brendle. “This team has a lot of scorers. We have to find ways to get points from other people besides Cayse.”
The overall Lash-Holiday Classic summary includes:
3rd Place Forsyth Country Day 60, Reynolds 54
All-Tournament Team MVP – Kendrick Edwards, Winston-Salem Prep Justice Goodloe, Forsyth Country Day Isaiah Penn, Mount Tabor Justin Carter, Winston-Salem Prep Cayse Minor, Mount Tabor Chrishawn Watson, Winston-Salem Prep