When Brentwood Academy’s Darius Garland is playing at the top of his game, the Eagles are tough to beat even when their opponents are playing at the top of theirs.
Ensworth found out all about that in its 62-59 home loss to BA on Tuesday night.
Garland scored 33 points, including all eight of his foul shots in the final 2:31. Camron Johnson added 14 for BA.
“Probably the two most athletic teams in the league, and a great game,” BA coach Hubie Smith added. “I don’t know what else you can ask for.”
“Headline: Darius Garland’s pretty good,” Ensworth coach Greg Eubanks chuckled later.
Ensworth’s Keyshawn Collier led the Tigers with 17, while Dominic Wynn had 12, and Keshawn Lawrence, nine.
It was a close game most of the night, with Brentwood Academy leading most of the way. Garland hit a pair of foul shots with 1:18 remaining for a 58-55 BA advantage.
But Collier answered with an impressive drive and lay-in around Garland with 1:03 left.
After Ensworth trapped Garland around mid-court and forced a travel, Warren Zager dunked off a feed, and the Tigers led by one with just under 30 seconds to play.
But Ensworth fouled Garland with 23.5 seconds left. The senior drilled both, and after Zager missed a free throw, Garland hit two more charity tosses with just under eight seconds left.
Ensworth’s Collier drove the ball into the front court, but Garland impeded his progress as he went left. The Eagles guarded the 3-point line well, and though Lawrence got a look off a pass, he wasn’t able to set his feet properly and the shot fell well short.
It was a tough defeat in what’s been a perpetually difficult year for the Tigers.
The Tigers lost center James Wiseman—the No. 2 junior nationally in the Class of 2019, according to Rivals—to transfer before the season began. Head coach Ricky Bowers is taking the season off to deal with a family matter, leaving coach Eubanks as the interim coach.
To top it off, Ensworth has had injury issues—Jaylon King has suffered from a groin injury suffered in football—and lost Lawrence for some key minutes on Tuesday due to foul trouble.
Eubanks admits his team lacks star power, but the Tigers have held it together by getting contributions from a number of different players. That was the case against BA as Ensworth played well in defeat.
On Tuesday, it was through tag-teaming Garland on defense, and a terrific offensive game from Collier, who’s recently raised his level of play.
“We were able to rotate between King and Dominic guarding Darius, and Dominic did a really good job of that. Dominic’s done some good things for us. And that’s the thing about it, we’ve had different guys step up (this year).” Eubanks said.
Ensworth made a living at point-blank range in the first quarter, helping the Tigers to a 19-18 lead. Three Ensworth field goals came on offensive rebounds.
That prompted BA to go to a zone early in the second quarter. Ensworth responded by sitting on the ball for about a full minute until the Eagles came out of it.
And that’s when Garland took over.
With the Eagles down 26-22, Garland scored the half’s last 11 points. Two field goals came on 3-pointers, and the last one, when Garland got the ball back from Mike Archie to hit a lay-up in transition in the final minute.
Garland had 18 at half, as Brentwood Academy held a 33-26 lead.
“We came out with a ‘w,’ and that was the most important part,” Garland said. “My teammates got me the ball when I needed it. I made big plays and some of my teammates made big stops down the stretch.”
Stopping Garland is easier said than done
Eubanks joked that Ensworth’s main plan against Garland fell through.
“We went to the cafeteria today and we slipped some stuff in the food,” he deadpanned. “Obviously, he must have brought his lunch today.”
The Tigers tried to watch how teams defend Oklahoma’s Trae Young and replicate that.
“We just tried to watch what teams were doing against (Young.) You’ve got to get the ball out of his hands, you have to change his rhythm up, you have to run different defenses. The problem was, we let him get in a rhythm.”
That happened despite Ensworth’s best efforts, with Garland finding it during the second-quarter run where BA took control. Garland was one of two dozen high school seniors recently selected as McDonald’s All-Americans. Smith said he’ll be a regular at Memorial Gymnasium next year, where Garland will play collegiately at Vanderbilt.
“He’s always good,” Smith said. “He’s better than pretty good, he’s special, he’s great in every area. He really has no weaknesses. And he’s a winner on top of that. He’s a kid who just knows how to win. I never think of him missing free throws. He’s like a 90 percent shooter and made his last 10. Eight in a row in the fourth quarter, all in a row.
“That’s what he does, though. That’s just what he does. Vandy’s got a special player and a special kid. He’s a coach’s dream. Easy to coach, winner, works hard every day, couldn’t ask for any more.”