Men’s Prep wins the National Prep Championship

WORCESTER, Mass.Mouhamed Dioubate had 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three blocks Friday night, while Baye Ndongo made two free throws with 0.3 seconds and Putnam Science Academy won its second straight National Prep basketball championship by beating Sunrise Christian Academy 80-76 on March 10. It is PSA’s fourth national title overall, with all of them coming in the last six years.

“I just got used to being three-time champions,” coach Tom Espinosa said. “I’ve got all those shirts that say ‘three-time.’ I guess we’ll have to get new ones!”

“We’ve been working for this since August,” said Dioubate, who was a major player off the bench last year and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player this year. “This is the best feeling ever. We faced a lot of adversity on this team, and we still faced it. They put us as the fourth seed…they didn’t think we were going to win. And look what happened! We’re the champs! Two times in a row!”

Last year, the Mustangs were undefeated and the championship game victory seemed like a mere formality. That seemed like it was going to be the case again Friday night when PSA opened up a 20-point lead midway through the second half. But Sunrise got hot and kept chipping away, eventually whittling the deficit to 77-76 with 40 seconds to play. The Buffaloes missed a pair of 3-pointers before PSA’s Miles Rose ended up with the ball in his hands. He was promptly fouled, and hit one-of-two free throws to make it a two-point game with 15.8 seconds left. Sunrise got into the lane for a final shot attempt, but Dioubate and Oswin Erhunmwunse combined to block the shot. Ndongo was fouled with 0.3 seconds left on the clock and made both free throws, then backed down the court with his arms extended wide as time expired, setting off a wild celebration at midcourt.

“I have been working on those last-minute free throws for that kind of moment,” said Ndongo, an uber-talented wing who joined the team at the start of the second semester and is headed to Rutgers next year. “It was up to me but I didn’t feel any pressure. It was a good feeling to know the game was over and we won the championship. I am so happy to be a champion.” 

Espinosa and his staff had the Mustangs playing their best basketball as the season closed. He said they probably had their worst game of the tournament in the final, but in the end made the plays they needed to make.

“I’m excited for the kids,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team, individually, go through more adversity than these individuals. I could go through almost the entire roster, and the kid overcame some adversity. Starting, not starting. Playing, not playing. Being suspended for not holding up our standards off the court. Darryl (Simmons) Tarique Foster, DJ Dormu, Duane (Thompson), Blake Barkley…I could go on and on and on. The kids really deserve this, they did buy in. They won 24 straight games to end the season. What they’ve gone through and accomplished, I’ve never seen here before.”

“This feels good,” said Rose, a reserve on last year’s team, who developed into a starter this year. “But I called it before the season even started, so we expected it.”

Thompson, the ever-exuberant wing who is expected to be back next season for his third and final year, followed Rose’s lead, taking it one step further.

“I’m calling it now,” he said. “I’ve got two rings now. This is PSA…I’m getting another one next year!”

PSA advanced to the title game by defeating Bradford Christian Academy – a team that handed the Mustangs two of their three losses this season – 75-60 in Friday morning’s semifinal. Tarique Foster scored 14 points, while Dioubate, Rose, and DJ Dormu had 10 apiece. Dioubate’s last point in the game was the 1,000th of his career.

PSA opened the tournament with a 78-70 win over Perkiomen (Pa.). Dioubate had 30 points and 13 rebounds, becoming PSA’s all-time leading rebounder in the process. Erhunmwunse had 11 rebounds and 10 blocks, while Thompson scored 10. The Mustangs then knocked off Brewster Academy in the quarters with a balanced attack led by Erhunmwunse (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Will Lovings-Watts (10 points).

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