A goliath of the 33rd Beach Ball Classic didn’t make it through the first round.
Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.), one of two participating teams ranked in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings at No. 24, was knocked off by Bullis School (Potomac, Md.) 70-56 Thursday in the opening night of action at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
“Coming from D.C. everybody knows like DeMatha and the big name schools like Bishop O’Connell, and they sometimes overlook us,” said Bullis senior guard Russell Sangster, who scored a game-high 23 points. “Just coming out and beating them, we were just trying to make a statement like, ‘We’re in D.C. too and we’re one of the better teams out there, so we want everybody to look out for us.’”
Miller Grove has won five consecutive state championships in Georgia and suffered its first loss Thursday in its Beach Ball history. The Wolverines (9-3) won the tournament in their only previous appearance in 2010.
“I don’t think we played our best basketball today, but you have to give credit to Bullis,” Miller Grove coach Sharman White said. “They came out and were ready. They made plays early in the game and we kind of dug ourselves a little hole and we were fighting, trying to get out of that hole the rest of the game. . . . We couldn’t string enough plays in a row to make a good run.”
Bullis is the two-time defending champions of the Interstate Athletic Conference, an independent school league that is considered the secondary conference in the Washington, D.C., area to the renowned conference of Catholic schools.
The Bulldogs improved to 8-1 this season, with their only loss by two points to Genesis Academy of Lynchburg, Va.
“We play a high level playing in D.C. all the time,” Sangster said. “There’s good competition everywhere, so we’re used to the talent that comes with that. We want to play the best people from anywhere so knowing they’re the five-time champion from Georgia we kind of wanted to prove ourselves and step up to the plate like we usually do and show them how tough D.C. basketball is.”
No. 20 Providence (Jacksonville, Fla.), which faces Socastee in the first round Friday, is the tournament’s other top-25 team. Both are also ranked in USA Today’s top 50.
Miller Grove is led by talented guards including senior Keith Pinckney and sophomore Alterique Gilbert, while Bullis is a disciplined team featuring tough and experienced guards and 6-11 senior center Andre Walker, who is committed to Hofstra and had 12 points and 13 rebounds Thursday.
The game featured three ties and four lead changes in the opening four minutes, but Bullis took a lead for good on a 3-pointer by Jamaal Greenwood. The lead was stretched to 10 points on a 3-pointer by Austin Brown three minutes later and 12 on a Brown layin with 7:41 left in the first half. The Bulldogs led 40-27 at halftime.
Layups by Miller Grove’s Kendall Williams and Gilbert cut the lead to seven points with seven minutes remaining, but four straight points by Bullis pushed the lead back to double digits. An inside basket by Russell Sangster following good ball movement with five minutes remaining gave Bullis a 13-point lead.
Miller Grove implemented feverish full-court pressure in an effort to force turnovers in the final 6 minutes, and they managed to get a few and speed up the game.
But the Wolverines were never able to find the range on their outside shots to make a legitimate comeback, and Bullis made them pay in transition a number of times as well. The lead was never cut to single digits in the final 5 minutes.
A dunk by 6-11 senior Andre Walker, lay-up on the break by Sangster and free throws down the stretch by Sangster and Walker helped hold Miller Grove off.
“We have six seniors in our top seven and they’ve sort of been through the wars in an area that prides itself in quality high school basketball,” Bullis coach Bruce Kelley said. “I think our experience showed when they really were aggressive, and things that would work on most teams we had a couple counters – some we practiced and some the kids made up on their own and just sort of worked. And we have some tough guys.”
Miller Grove’s two previous losses this year were to fellow Georgia powers Wheeler (Marietta) and Columbia (Decatur). Pinckney paced the Wolverines with 21, while James Walker added nine points and 14 rebounds in the post.
“From our standpoint, we just did not play Miller Grove basketball tonight,” White said. “Maybe Bullis had something to do with it but I think a lot of is starts with us. This is a time where our guys have to make some adjustments and get our mindset where it needs to be, and hopefully we’ll grow from this and try to solidify the rest of the tournament.”
• MILLER GROVE (56) – Keith Pickney 21, Kendall Williams, 4, Alterique Gilbert 11, Raylon Richardson 4, James Walker 9, Gamaun Boykin 2, Deven Dorsett 2, Omar Venable 3.
• BULLIS SCHOOL (70) – Russell Sangster 23, Aaron Briggs 7, Jamaal Greenwood 10, Austin Brown 13, Andre Walker 12, Jamaal Wright 5.
• Halftime: Bullis School 40-27. 3-point goals: Miller Grove 5 (Gilbert 3, Pickney 2); Bullis School 5 (Sangster, Briggs, Greenwood, Brown, Wright). Team fouls: Miller Grove 22, Bullis School 16. Fouled out: Williams, Walker. Technical fouls: None.
• Records: Miller Grove 9-3, Bullis School 8-1.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.