Pressure busts pipes, but pressure also creates champions. Nova Village's group of Central Ohio rising juniors have been playing like champions, and after a 59-54 win over Team GA Heat, they stand just one win away from an AAU national title. As Concord Caberrus (NC) point guard Kyran McClure's team-high 19 points led Nova Village to a major victory, the 6-foot-1 floor general made several plays down the stretch that ultimately made the difference.
Heading into the fourth quarter trailing 43-40, Nova Village was in desperate need of quick offense and a string of defensive stops. As Columbus Walnut Ridge guard Tarik Wright nailed a pull-up three from the left wing to put Nova Village ahead 47-45 with 5:27 to go, McClure's moment would be soon to follow.
As both teams exchanged punches for the next minute and a half, McClure took a huge charge with 4:01 remaining to give Nova Village possession in a game tied at 49. After a three from GA Heat shooting guard Jaylon McMillon, his fifth of the game, Nova Village found themselves down 52-51 with 2:45 remaining.
Driving to his left through traffic, McClure would finish a difficult reverse lay-in to put Nova ahead 53-52, only moments later to force a steal, again finishing through contact to give his team a 55-52 advantage with less than a minute to go. A day removed from scoring six points in the fourth quarter in the quarterfinal win vs. Team TGAND, McClure's clutch play was again instrumental down the stretch, as Nova Village hung on to finish off GA Heat, 59-54.
Much like Sunday's quarterfinal, Nova Village tightened up its defensive pressure in the final minutes, proving to be a major factor in the win. As coach Donald Estis used a unique rotation, often subbing out the entire starting lineup for long stretches, fresh legs in the fourth quarter for Nova Village made a big difference. With McMillon's 25 points helping Georgia keep Nova on the ropes, Estis keyed in on stopping the Heat's top scorer from getting too hot in the final minutes.
As reserves Bryson London (New Albany), Daylan Haynie (Westerville South), Eric Fitz (Columbus DeSales), Grant Gossard (Olentangy Orange), and Rondell Clark (Columbus Africentric) put in valuable minutes off the bench for large parts of the second half, Nova's starting cast would have the juice needed to score tough buckets late in the game.
Wright's stretch of eight points, six of which in the fourth quarter, mellowed Georgia's momentum after an 11-2 run helped the Atlanta-based squad overcome a once nine-point deficit early in third quarter. Johnstown combo-forward Jason Carter had his best game of the weekend, going for 14 points and five rebounds, all while containing 6-foot-8 Georgia center Kohl Roberts.
With Nova ahead by three after McClure's transition finish, Carter would block a driving attempt from McMillon on the next possession, securing the rebound and dishing to Westerville Central guard Erron James. James would knock down two major free throws with 35 seconds remaining, putting Nova up five points, and giving a sigh of relief to teammates and spectators. While James' free throws would be his only points of the morning, the 6-foot guard's work on the defensive perimeter did not go unnoticed. Forcing a game-high four steals, James is quickly becoming Nova's top on-ball defender, something the Central Ohio boys will need a lot of in the next round.
With the win, Nova Village advances to the 10th Grade AAU National Championship to take on Arkansas Wings Elite. After taking down Arkansas' 15u squad in the Sweet 16, Nova Village will have a major test in a team that was runner-up at the Nike Peach Jam Sweet 16 last weekend.
As Carter and Gossard are Nova's only legitimate options in the post, it will be a challenge for the underdogs to contain 6-foot-10 Van Buren (AR) center Mitchell Smith. Forward Eric Curry (Ridgeway, AR) and guard Payton Willis (Fayetteville, AR) are two other standout players to watch for from the Wings.
Monday's championship game will take place at 4 p.m. at Freedom Hall in Louisville. Stay tuned to my Twitter feed for live updates and play-by-play analysis.