Winston Shepard had heard enough.
Yes, the 6-foot-8 Findlay Prep senior forward and Bishop Gorman star Shabazz Muhammad are both friends and AAU teammates during the summer, but that didn’t mean he was about to let the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit in the 2012 class have anything for free on Saturday.
“I played good defense because I took it personal,” Shepard said. “Our coach printed off some stuff and showed us what some of the media and what people were trying to say, that he’s unstoppable and this and that.
“I wasn’t buying into that, to be honest with you guys. I just tried to do the best job I could do.”
Shepard’s efforts on both the defensive end and on the glass were at the core of a sound 73-61 victory for Findlay over Gorman in front of a sell-out crowd at Cox Pavilion.
Shepard finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a reaffirmation that he is truly one of the country’s elite defenders in the prep ranks.
Despite giving Muhammad some easy touches early in the game, Shepard never let Gorman’s 6-foot-6 lefty do much with them, as Muhammad was not able to attack the rim at will as he normally does. His help-side defense, which was there consistently all afternoon, had plenty to do with that, too.
All in all, it capped what was an outstanding week for Shepard, who Rivals.com ranks as the No. 40 recruit in the 2012 class. Earlier in the week, in a nationally-televised upset of Simeon (Ill.) High—the nation’s top-ranked team heading in—Shepard shut down star wing Jabari Parker, who is the top recruit in the 2013 class.
“As he got into the flow of it, he locked in, engaged and kind of did what he did for us against Simeon and Jabari Parker,” Findlay coach Mike Peck said. “That’s what we need out of him. That’s got to continue. I would even say this—I’ll challenge him. Can he step up and make it a little better?”
Shepard had plenty of help, especially from his loaded back-court, which was a distinct advantage for the Pilots coming into their fourth meeting in four years with the Gaels.
Senior Dominic Artis—an Oregon signee—scored a game-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting to go with seven assists. Meanwhile, junior Nigel Williams-Goss—a former UNLV commit—had 20 points, four assists and two steals.
The duo helped Findlay Prep execute lengthy offensive possessions that ultimately found holes in Gorman’s zone defense, while also pushing the ball successfully in transition.
The two were at their best in the third quarter, when Findlay Prep ultimately slammed the door shut on Gorman’s bid to get its first even victory in the series.
Gorman’s Ben Carter hit a 60-foot desperation heave just before the halftime buzzer that electrified the Gael-heavy crowd and gave his team a 34-33 lead at the break. To that point, Gorman had stayed in the game mostly by scrapping on the glass on both ends and refusing to back down against a FIndlay team that was bigger across the board.
“They had the lead, but we felt like we were missing some easy shots,” Williams-Goss said. “We knew what we were doing wrong, and that was the biggest thing. We just came out and corrected it.”
They corrected it by out-scoring Findlay Prep 20-5 in the third quarter, making the fourth frame essentially an exhibition.
In that third quarter, Muhammad was held scoreless after tallying eight points in the first half. Shepard & Co. did a better job at that point of simply denying him touches, frustrating him in the process.
Meanwhile, as Artis and Williams-Goss did most of the scoring, big men Brandon Ashley and Matt Willms dominated on the glass. They combined for 13 rebounds in the game, with most of those coming after the intermission.
Muhammad ultimately padded his stat line in the fourth quarter with a few buckets late, but Findlay had already won the war.
“The whole time, people were asking how we were going to stop Shabazz, and this and that,” Shepard said. “But the truth of the matter, I think, was how was Gorman going to stop Findlay? We have great players as well. That’s what we keyed in on. We wanted to play our game, let them match up with us.”
It’s a Findlay team that now appears to be hitting a stride at just the right time after finding away to get its wave of newcomers to blend in and buy into its structured, defense-oriented system.
It’s also a team that appears poised to be a serious contender for its third ESPN Rise National High School Invitational title in April.
The Pilots figure they’ll get there by treating every game the same, which is what they believe helped them succeed on Saturday in a game that was built up for months leading in.
“To be honest, it’s just another game to us,” Shepard added. “We just want to come out and get the win like any other game. Our coach tells us we don’t get too high or get too low, we don’t buy into the hype, so we just want to come out and win every game.”
• Shepard gave an update on his recruitment, listing seven schools as potential suitors: UConn, St. John’s, Oregon, San Diego State, New Mexico, UNLV and Oklahoma State. He has already taken an official visit to New Mexico, and said he plans on taking four more unspecified trips before signing in April.
• Williams-Goss, who de-committed from UNLV after Lon Kruger left to take the Oklahoma job last April, said he is still wide open. UNLV is still in the hunt, as is, obviously, Oklahoma. A bevy of Pac-12 schools are agressively recruiting the Portland, Ore., native, too.
• Muhammad finished with 19 points, while Ben Carter scored nine and Rosco Allen tallied seven. UNLV signee Demetris Morant had six points and two rebounds.
• Findlay star Anthony Bennett—another UNLV recruiting target—didn’t play due to a nagging hamstring injury. He did, however, attend the UNLV-New Mexico game on Saturday night. The same went for Williams-Goss, Findlay junior and UNLV commit Chris Wood, Morant and UNLV signee Katin Reinhardt, who all found their way to the UNLV student section.