Coming off a winless appearance last week in the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., Pace Academy of Atlanta was anxious to show it belonged on the national stage Monday in the first round of the 36th annual Beach Ball Classic.
Pace had little trouble proving its worth against an undermanned and undersized McQuaid Jesuit (N.Y.) team, racing to an 18-point halftime lead and cruising to a 63-36 win at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
“Our goal is definitely to win this tournament, and if we don’t win we’re going to make sure we continue to grow,” said Pace senior Wendell Carter, a Duke commitment. “Our motto is always be better than we were yesterday, so as long as we continue to do that I think we’ll be fine.”
The City of Palms performance wasn’t as bad as the 0-3 record might indicate. Pace (5-6), the defending Georgia Class 2A state champion that has moved up to 3A this season, held a halftime lead in all three games, including against nationally-ranked teams Norcross (Ga.) and Memphis East (Tenn.), and lost its third game on a tip-in at the buzzer.
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“Of course I hate to lose. I’m a competitor and I always want to win, but I’ve got to live with the results and just move on,” Carter said. “We played pretty well as a team. It’s a growing experience and we had a lot of fun bonding as a team so I think it was a productive tournament.”
Pace players had four days off after returning home from Florida and played Monday’s first-round game without the benefit of a practice since their last game.
“We had a tough run at the City of Palms, but I look at it as this is the pedigree if you want to win your state championship or have an opportunity, you’re going to see a lot of teams like these teams going into the playoffs,” Pace coach Demetrius Smith said.
McQuaid Jesuit (5-2) of Rochester has returned to the Beach Ball for the first time since it won the title in 2002 with guard Jack Leasure, who starred at Coastal Carolina and has returned to coach his high school alma mater.
The Beach Ball is McQuaid Jesuit’s first national tournament this season. “This game especially, we’re learning what this national level of competition is like,” Leasure said. “It’s a little bit of a wake-up call for these guys in this first game.”
McQuaid Jesuit is playing this week without two of its top returners from last season in 6-4 junior Thomas Jones and 6-8 sophomore Isaiah Stewart, and it struggled to contain Carter and highly-recruited 6-6 junior Isaiah Kelly.
Carter, a 6-10 senior, had a double-double in the first half with 14 points and 11 rebounds and finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds and a pair of blocks in 23 minutes. Kelly contributed 14 points and seven rebounds, and guards Barrett Baker and Reign Watkins added 12 and 10 points, respectively, for Pace.
They have two guys that I think are pretty special talents, and then they have a bunch of guys that play pretty hard around them. I thought they played harder than us in the first half.
McQuaid Jesuit coach Jack Leasure
“They have two guys that I think are pretty special talents, and then they have a bunch of guys that play pretty hard around them. I thought they played harder than us in the first half,” Leasure said. “… I thought our guys responded and played with a little more confidence and less fear in the second half, so that was good to see.”
Without Stewart, 6-9 senior Cam Wilson is the only McQuaid Jesuit player taller than 6-5, and Wilson picked up two early fouls in the first half and was limited to three points and a rebound in five minutes in the first stanza and four points, two rebounds and two blocks in the game.
Guards Anthony Iglesia and Divine Williams had 17 and 11 points, respectively, to pace the New Yorkers. “We’re trying to battle and fill roles right now, and they’re doing a good job of it,” Leasure said.