Behind all the flashy plays and McDonald’s All-American talent, a not-so-glamorous foundation has enabled Findlay Prep to become one of the nation’s best prep basketball programs.
“If there were two things I’d have to say what Findlay Prep is about, it’s defense and rebounding,” senior forward Winston Shepard said.
Shepard and Nigel Williams-Goss brought their hard hats, Dominic Artis brought a shovel, and the Findlay Prep trio combined to bury Bishop Gorman on Saturday.
Findlay Prep outscored Gorman 20-5 in the third quarter on its way to a 73-61 victory at sold-out Cox Pavilion. The Pilots improved to 4-0 against Gorman in the Big City Showdown Challenge before an ESPNU audience.
Gorman senior swingman Shabazz Muhammad, the nation’s consensus No. 1 prospect, had 19 points and nine rebounds. But Shepard and Williams-Goss combined to hold him scoreless in the third period, and Muhammad scored 11 of his points in the fourth when the Gaels’ rally fell short.
The Pilots (19-1) put on a defensive showcase in front of a crowd that included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. And they did it without star forward Anthony Bennett, a UNLV recruiting target who sat out because of an injured hamstring.
Artis, a point guard who has signed with Oregon, was named the game’s Most Inspirational Player after he put up 21 points, seven assists and two steals.
Artis cited Shepard and Williams-Goss containing Muhammad, who attempted only two free throws, as the key to victory.
“Coach (Michael) Peck is a real good coach. He really prepared us,” Artis said. “We really tried to overload help on Shabazz and limit his success. Winston and Nigel did a really good job on him, and we came out with the win.”
Findlay’s focus on defense is nothing new. The mindset has helped send several Pilots on to successful careers in college and, in some cases, the NBA.
“How we get guys to buy into (defense) is, we tell them, ‘If you’re going to college and you’re OK with just being on the bench and by the end of sophomore year you can contribute, then don’t worry about playing defense,’ ” Peck said. “’But if you come out and you’re getting after it and you’ll guard, you’re going to be like the Cory Josephs, the D.J. Richardsons, the Tristan Thompsons and Avery Bradleys.
“’You’re going to be an impact player when you step on campus, because you’re going to be way ahead of your peers in that class coming in.’”
Artis’ supporting cast was strong, as junior guard Williams-Goss supplied 20 points and four assists on his way to the game’s Most Valuable Player award and Shepard had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
“When you have so many guys around you like that, it makes it a lot easier. Lanes open up because they’re focused on (teammates),” Artis said.
Amedeo Della Valle had 10 points and five rebounds for Findlay Prep, which took a 58-41 lead on a steal and layup by Williams-Goss early in the fourth quarter.
Gorman coach Grant Rice, visibly disappointed by the loss, said the third-quarter letdown proved too much to overcome.
The Gaels (14-4) failed to build any momentum after Ben Carter gave them a 34-33 lead by banking in a 3-pointer from well beyond halfcourt at the halftime buzzer.
“We missed five or six easy ones in the third quarter that we normally make, and didn’t get back in transition defense, and that was the difference,” Rice said. “We just couldn’t recover from that third quarter the way we came out.
“Really disappointed with our third quarter. We just didn’t deserve to win after playing that way in the third quarter.”
Carter and Rashad Muhammad scored nine points apiece for Gorman, which couldn’t pull the upset after losing 89-86 in double overtime to the Pilots last year.