McEachern City of Palms

No. 1 McEachern captures third-place at City of Palms Classic

Contributed by Chris Kelly   (@C_KELLY99)

No. 1 McEachern 56, Simeon (IL) 54

No. 1 McEachern lost a tough game against eventual champion University School (FL) on Friday but the Indians looked to defeat Simeon (IL) to capture third place in the City of Palms on Saturday. Simeon is a storied basketball program from the south side of Chicago who has produced a number of elite NBA players, such as Derrick Rose, Jahlil Okafor, Anthony Davis, and Nick Anderson to name just a few. Simeon, led by longtime coach Rob Smith, is always a top-notch basketball team looking to give any team a tough matchup. They played the consensus number one team in the nation, Memphis East (TN), and gave the Mustangs a game that went down to the wire. The Wolverines, led by versatile, senior wing Talen Horton-Tucker, looked to get some revenge and beat McEachern to end their trip to Florida with a third-place trophy.

The first quarter started with a slow offensive showing. Coach Mike Thompson dug into his bench early and put guards Alyn Breed and Devin Gordon onto the floor. The two juniors gave a stagnant McEachern offense some life and played with some energy. On the other end, Simeon guard KeJuan Clements controlled the pace of the game and finished well when he got into the lane. McEachern’s defense was great in the first quarter, holding the Wolverines to just 13.

The second quarter remained rather consistent with the first. Coach Thompson continued to utilize his bench. Guard Quinton McElroy got on to the floor as well to provide some fresh legs. Simeon, who lacked much size, couldn’t keep big men Babatunde Akingbola and Jared Jones off the boards. The two big men were swatting shots constantly and pulling down rebounds over the much smaller Simeon guards.

While the Wolverines lacked size, they made up for it with speed and intangibles. They were a blur in the open court and were able to adjust their defensive scheme to limit Jones’ and Akingbola’s offensive production. While Simeon was able to contain the big men, they struggled to guard the wings. Isaac Okoro and Sharife Cooper both put up good numbers in the first half, combing for 27 points. Cooper hit a few threes and had some great assists to his teammates, while Okoro got to the rim and finished over the small Simeon players. At the half, McEachern was up 35-30.

To start the second half, Okoro hit a jump shot from the right wing, but then the Wolverines blitzed the Indians and put up points in a hurry. Simeon went on a huge run fueled by guard Xavier Pinson and do-it-all wing Talen Horton-Tucker. Pinson, a senior guard, came off the bench for Coach Smith and provided a huge spark. The bouncy guard finished well above the rim and helped facilitate the ball to his open teammates. Horton-Tucker did everything on the offensive end from posting up to running pick-and-rolls.

After the initial offensive burst, the Indians settled in and Okoro started the heat up. He put constant pressure on the interior defense and got to the free throw line. He finished with seven points in the quarter and the Indians had an 8-point lead entering the fourth.

About a minute into the final quarter, Cooper picked up his fourth foul. Coach Thompson chose to keep him in and trust his savvy, young guard. Pinson continued to attack for Simeon until big man Jared Jones stepped in front of a driving Pinson and took a charge. This resulted in Pinson’s fifth and final foul as he had the watch the remainder of the game from the bench.

Simeon continued their game plan without Pinson and saw Drake-commit Messiah Jones step up. He hit some open shots to give the Wolverines a little momentum. Jones, who played out of position the entire tournament, had to battle with the posts down low.

As the game almost came to a close, Simeon fouled Okoro. He went to the line and he knocked down two free throws. The Wolverines rushed down the floor to get a shot but turned the ball over to Cooper with about 16 seconds left. Guard Devin Gordon missed the first of his two free throws but made the second one.

Simeon came down the floor and cleared out for Horton-Tucker. He got to the rim with ease but his layup rolled out.

With two and a half seconds left and the ball under the hoop, Coach Smith drew up a great screen-the-screener play for Clements, using Horton-Tucker as a decoy, and Okoro lost his man. However, Clements wasn’t able to finish the layup, the Indians surviving 56-54.

McEachern finished their first City of Palms appearance in 3rd place. The young team, according to Vice President of the tournament Donnie Wilkie, will be returning in 2018 and have a huge opportunity to develop over the summer and potentially win the entire tournament next year.

Chris’ Takeaways

Sharife Cooper is going to attract some national attention soon. The sophomore guard had a terrific run at the City of Palms including a 42-point outing against 5-star senior Jahvon Quinerly. 42 points is a record by any Georgia player at the City of Palms Classic. Considering some of the Georgians that have played in the tournament, MJ Walker, Collin Sexton, Lou Williams, Kobe Simmons and Malik Beasley to name a few, this is a huge accomplishment. Cooper’s play earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team, alongside some elite company.

Xavier Pinson is still a great available guard for any low or mid-major college. After decommitting from Kent State, the senior blew up on the AAU circuit. Pinson holds a handful of offers from smaller colleges, such as George Mason, Buffalo and Evansville. He is bouncy and is fearless attacking the rim and has a good-looking jump shot. Against Memphis East (TN), Pinson attacked the rim constantly and almost dunked over 7-footer, top recruit in the nation James Wiseman. No matter who’s in the middle, Pinson looks to rise up and slam it on them.

McEachern’s offense will need to improve before the playoffs start. While the Indians will not face a team that has anywhere near the talent that University (FL), Simeon, or Hudson Catholic (NJ), had, they will still face some tough teams in Class AAAAAAA. Against the last three teams McEachern faced in the City of Palms, their offense looked stagnant and struggled at times. Their first game against Ranney (NJ), McEachern’s offense looked smooth and efficient. The Indians only shot the ball 31 times against Simeon and had 21 team turnovers.

Top Performers

Isaac Okoro – 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists
Sharife Cooper – 19 points (5-5 FG), 4 rebounds, 5 assists

Simeon (IL)
Talen Horton-Tucker – 21 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Xavier Pinson – 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists
Messiah Jones – 10 points, 10 rebounds