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Montverde Academy set to tangle with IMG Academy in City of Palms finale

December 23, 2019
By CJ HADDAD ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

After all was said and done in Saturday's semifinal match-ups in the Culligan City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, basketball fans across the country were looking forward to a special treat in Monday's championship game, as No. 1 ranked Montverde Academy will take on No. 2 ranked IMG Academy in a battle of two of the nation's elite programs.

IMG knocked off Gonzaga College High School (D.C.) 76-67 in the night's first clash for a spot in the finals behind Jaden Springer's 22 points.

Montverde (FL, 9-0) had little issues defeating defending champion McEachern (GA), coasting to a 99-48 victory. The Eagles has seven double-digit scorers, including 14 from Scottie Barnes, Caleb Houstan and Moses Moody.

Article Photos


IMG Academy's Jaden Springer sets up the offense during the team’s 76-67 win over Gonzaga College High School in a City of Palms Classic semifinal match-up. Springer dropped in 22 points and added six rebounds and five assists in the game.

Montverde head coach Kevin Boyle pointed to his team's unselfish play early on in the season as a key to their success.

"We didn't start well defensively, but obviously offensively we were pretty good all night," Boyle said. "The biggest thing with this team is -- I don't know if there's ever been a team in the first 10 games with as many assists that we have to field goals. It's impressive how unselfish they are, how they don't care who scores."

The Eagles assisted on 31 of their 39 field goals makes, an impressive feat to say the least. Boyle noted recent games in the past where their made baskets were accompanied by an assist -- a true sign of fluid ball movement and an offense in attack mode.

The defending champs never stood a chance, as they trailed for virtually the entirety of the contest. Last year's tournament MVP, Sharife Cooper, tallied 15 points and added four assists and two rebounds in the loss.

For Montverde, double-digit scorers included Barnes, Houstan, Moody, No. 2 ranked senior by ESPN Cade Cunningham, Day'ron Sharpe, Zeb Jackson and Langston Love.

Barnes added 10 boards to complete the double-double. Cunningham dished out nine assists and collected five rebounds to fill the stat sheet.

"Well, obviously we had a big size advantage with Day'ron and Scottie," Boyle said. "We just tried to keep it simple and copy Coach (Jay) Wright and Villanova's thing of just, four out, one in, quick ball reversal and dump in and play off the post.

"At this point, because guys are unselfish and because guys are making the right play, we can simplify."

As for the next game against IMG, Boyle said he's looking forward to playing a team they may see as many as four times this season. IMG defeated Montverde last season at the GEICO Nationals semifinals. IMG would go on to become National Champions.

"They're very good on the offensive boards," Boyle said of IMG. "If we keep them off the boards, that's one of the keys for us. And the other key is, I think, perhaps we can turn them over because sometimes (they have) three big guys playing together. So maybe their strength might be rebounding and not ball handling in that case."

Boyle said he has respect for IMG and its program, but that he wants to end the decade and begin the next as the consensus No. 1 team in the country.

"We've had a lot of success, we were the team of the decade," Boyle said. "We'd like to start this decade off and see if we can repeat it. It would be good to start this year as the No. 1 team, so if we can finish as the No. 1 team, it gives us a jump start."

In its semifinal game, IMG (FL, 7-1) got off to a slower start against Gonzaga, but in the end, the team"s size and prowess was too much to handle, resulting in a double-digit victory and a trip to the tournament title game.

"It was a pretty hard-fought, physical game," said IMG head coach Sean McAloon. "We just happened to make couple plays late to get back in the game. I told the kids just now I was really proud of the way we (played). Three or four weeks ago we would have lost that game, just based on toughness. We're still trying to find ourselves, but we stuck together and were able to figure it out."

An eight-point run in the fourth quarter, in which IMG scored 34 points, was the difference in the game. Other than Springer's leading performance, Matthew Murrell added 13 of his own. Moussa Diabate and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield each scored a dozen for IMG.

Up next is No. 1 Montverde, and McAloon said he's ready to go. IMG played before the Montverde semifinal game, so McAloon answered questions not knowing if it would be the Eagles or McEachern Indians.

"We want whoever wins this game," McAloon said post game. "We've watched film on both (teams) we're prepared for both match-ups.

"If it's (Montverde) it's great. I know that's what everybody kind of wants, and, we'll be there. We'll be there in our away uniforms, and whoever's on the other side, we'll check ball."

IMG, which made an early exit in last year's tournament and then broke off 20-plus wins consecutively on its way to a National Title, hopes a victory in this year's tournament can pave a road to another banner season.

"It will be big for us, it's something we couldn't do last year," Springer said on what it would mean to win the City of Palms Classic. "Really, it would be great in the moment -- after that, we've got to keep moving on to the rest of the season and prepare for the next game. That's our main focus, chasing a national championship."

The highly anticipated match-up was set to take place Monday at 8:30 p.m.

Locally, Evangelical Christian School took to the Florida SouthWestern State College floor as part of the Sunshine Series bracket.

The Sentinels (5-3) dropped their contest in which they had a lead after the half, 78-60, to Mater Academy.

Aaron Jones dropped 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting for ECS. Dylan McDaniel and Trent Guttery also scored in double figures.

Sophomore stand-out Malik Reneau scored 37 for Mater Academy on their way to a win.

Despite the loss, the experience of playing in the atmosphere the City of Palms provides is enriching, none the less.

"It's great. It's the first time ECS has ever been in the City of Palms," said Sentinel head coach Scott Guttery. "We're happy to be invited but obviously we wanted to have a little better showing. Played a really good first half, turnovers got the best of us. We had a really bad four-minute stretch at the beginning of the third quarter and had a hard time recovering from that. It's a game of momentum, and we lost a lot of momentum there."

Mater scored a whopping 30 points in the third quarter to ECS's 12 and added 22 more in the fourth to add breathing room.

Jones worked hard in the paint all night against a big talent in Reneau. McDaniel was working hard from the point guard position all game and hitting a few pretty touch floaters in the lane.

All in all, it's a learning experience.

"We've got to improve on handling different types of pressures in games, and we saw that," Guttery said. "It was a good experience for us and it'll help us be better in the long run."

Also on Saturday, the Fort Myers High School 2009-2010 State Championship basketball team was honored, of which Guttery was a part of. The Green Wave is the only Southwest Florida team to hold a state title in men's basketball.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj



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