Trinity controlled the tempo and led much of the evening, but in the end Carmel Christian simply had too much game in a 55-49 quarterfinal victory in the 36th Arby’s Classic at Viking Hall.
“When you’ve got that many signees and four other kids that’s getting Division I attention over on the bench, it’s just a luxury,” Cougars coach Joe Badgett said. “It’s hard for the other team to match up with all that. But Trinity is so well coached and they did a great job slowing us down, mixing their zone defenses real well and messing with our patience.”
Trinity boss Mike Szabo, a coach locally at Washington College Academy in the late 1990s, was a gracious loser, but the 18th- year leader of the Shamrocks (9-3) knew his Louisville club missed a chance at a landmark win.
“The thing is, we were set up tonight to do ... if we just did what we were supposed to do then we’ve got a great chance to win,” Szabo said. “And we did, we did. We just didn’t do it the whole time.
“We did it for maybe 27 minutes and that wasn’t enough.”
Trinity, the 2016 Arby’s champion, took great care of the ball and found enough clean looks from the perimeter to lead 27-19 at halftime and 33-22 with 6:57 left in the third quarter. But the unbeaten Cougars (19-0) are ranked 17th in the country for a reason.
“That was the halftime speech,” Badgett said. “It’s that simple: If you’re not going to defend, we’re going to have breakfast at 8 and I’ll see you at 12 o’clock (in today’s losers’ bracket game).”
After intermission, Carmel limited the Shamrocks to six buckets on 18 shot attempts and forced 12 of Trinity’s 18 turnovers. Trinity came up empty on 10 straight possessions in the third period.
“We weren’t concerned, but we knew we had to come out in the third quarter and make a run,” said Carmel Christian’s 6-foot-8 Jake Boggs, a UNC Wilmington commit who finished with 12 points and three two-handed slams.
Behind the play of Boggs and Donovan Gregory (Appalachian State), Carmel chipped away until it was able to tie the game at 34 at the 2:25 mark of the third.
Gregory then pushed Carmel Christian over the top, scoring nine of his team-high 15 points over the game’s last eight minutes, including a pair of thunderous two-hand slams off the dribble in the game’s final minute.
“That’s what I’m best at, getting to the rim,” said Gregory, who got 14 points of support from 6-5 College of Charleston commit DeAngelo Epps. “Somebody had to step up and Coach gave me the opportunity, so I took advantage of the mismatch.”
Trinity gained its early stronghold behind the perimeter shooting of 6-4 senior Stan Turnier, who made five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points. Sophomore teammate Ethan Hodge slashed his way to 16 points, but down the stretch the Shamrocks simply could not find any offense.
Down 53-49 with the ball and 23 seconds to play, Trinity couldn’t get off another shot before finally turning it over with four seconds left on the clock.
Szabo could only wonder.
“We were right there in the last minute in a one-possession game,” he said. “We just couldn’t get a stop.
“In the end their physicality kind of won out. We need to be tougher and stronger with the ball.”
WENONAH OUTLASTS OREM
Alabama’s Wenonah broke free of a tight game by dominating the fourth quarter, claiming a 63-53 win over Orem of Utah in the Arby’s fourth quarterfinal.
The game was even at 44 through three quarters after Orem’s Taft Mitchell hit a halfcourt heave to end the period, but Wenonah’s superior length made the difference down the stretch.
The Dragons (17-2) outscored Orem 19-9 over the final eight minutes.
Cameron Tucker led the winners with 20 points, and teammate Jayden Sanders hit four 3-pointers to contribute 14. Justin Minter backed both with a 12-point night.
Mitchell scored 15 points on his birthday to share team-high honors with Carter Nehmer. Ike Richards tossed in a dozen for the Golden Tigers (5-3).
Wenonah meets Bearden on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in the second semifinal. The first semifinal has Carmel Christian going up against Buford (Ga.) at 7 p.m.
Orem plays Mount Bethel at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in a losers’ bracket game.