By Adam Finkelstein
Special to Scout.com
Alex Oriakhi (Right) and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (Left) just seem to do great things together. Not only did the duo commit Connecticut prior to their sophomore year, but they have captured two NEPSAC Class B titles at the Tilton School and won countless titles with their BABC club.
But on Tuesday night none was more sweet than their most recent championship.
“This is the biggest win of my career,” Coombs-McDaniel said following Tilton’s 97-93 win over Hargrave Military Academy in the finals of the National Prep Championship.
“Most people said we didn’t even belong here,” he added. “But we proved them all wrong.”
Coombs-McDaniel picked up the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award after scoring 30 points in the final, 21 in an 86-71 win over Bridgton Academy in the semi-finals, and a whopping 42 in Tilton’s opening round victory over South Kent 96-88.
But it wasn’t just the number of points Coombs-McDaniel scored, it was his ability to step up and put the team on his back whenever they needed him to. That was perhaps never better demonstrated than in their win over South Kent, when the senior swingman scored 21 points in the final 12 minutes of the first half after Oriakhi was sent to the bench with his third foul.
“I felt like I was letting him down when I had to go to the bench in foul trouble,” Oriakhi said of his longtime running mate. “But they just couldn’t stop Jamal all tournament.”
As for Oriakhi himself, he was a dominant presence in the paint throughout the tournament. In the championship game he seemed to get every defensive rebound that came off the rim as he finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds.
Also coming up big for Tilton was the third arm of their “big three”, Gerard Coleman. The junior swingman couldn’t be stopped in the open floor as he continuously slithered his way to the rim to finish with 25 points.
To put into perspective just how good these three had to be for Tilton consider this – Tilton may not have another future Division I player on their roster. Scotty Tavares, who starts at the point, is headed to Division II UMass Lowell next year and the fifth starter, Alex Kershaw, is a 6-foot-2 undersized junior forward whose future probably lies on a football field. Conversely, every other team in the field, which was made up of the top 8 prep school teams in the country, had numerous scholarship and often times several high major level talents.
But take nothing away from the Tilton role players as they did their job admirably. Tavares played a very solid championship game, making shots from the perimeter and handling the ball against pressure, while Kershaw is a guy who does all the little things to help his team win.
Sophomore George Niang, and post-graduates Chris Barsanti (headed to Division III Dickinson) and Matt Gaither (playing college football at Stonehill) were also solid off the Tilton bench for Rams head coach Marcus O’Neil.
But ultimately this win came down to one thing – Tilton had the three best players on the floor each time they took the court. And for two of those players this tournament was the last chapter in a storybook career that features countless accolades, awards, and championships, which now includes the 2009 National Prep Championship
Quarter-Finals #8 Bridgton Academy 83 #1 Patterson School 73; #2 Hargrave Military Academy 71 #7 Winchendon School 69; #6 Brewster Academy 97 #3 Notre Dame Prep 89; #5 Tilton School 96 #4 South Kent School 88
Semi-Finals: Tilton School 86 Bridgton Academy 71; Hargrave Military Academy 92 Brewster Academy 78
Finals: Tilton School 97 Hargrave Military Academy 93
All Tournament Teams:
Most Valuable Player – Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Tilton School
First Team: Alex Oriakhi, Tilton School; Gerard Coleman, Tilton School; Chris Braswell, Hargrave Military Academy; Luke Hancock, Hargrave Military Academy; Andrew Fitzgerald, Brewster Academy
Second Team: Maurice Creek, Hargrave Military Academy; Ledrick Eackles, Hargrave Military Academy; Malik Stith, Bridgton Academy; Rashanti Harris, Patterson School; Sean Kilpatrick, Notre Dame Prep