I took in a fun rivalry matchup Friday night between Lovett and Pace. Lovett’s gym was filled up and loud for the contest, and the teams didn’t disappoint. In a fast, back and forth battle, the score was tied at 34 at halftime. After the break, the Knights made the game even faster, forcing tons of turnovers and scoring 26 points in the 3rd quarter. With a 60-52 lead going into the 4th, Pace put up 24 more in the final quarter and kept Lovett at bay despite a hard-fought game from the Lions, winning 84-71. This game featured a ton of 2021 guys, including some high-level prospects who rose to the occasion. Here’s who impressed on Friday.
2021 W Matthew Cleveland (Pace)- 42 points, 15 rebounds, 5 steals, 2 made 3’s
Cleveland is hitting his stride for the Knights and had what I’d have to guess was his best performance of the season on Friday night. The offensive production was there all game; he had 13 points in the 1st quarter, 18 at halftime, 28 after 3 quarters, and finished with 42. His increased focus and activity on defense in the 2nd half was a huge boost for Pace; he was constantly picking off passes and flying through passing lanes after halftime. Cleveland’s work on the glass was really impressive too as he attacked the offensive boards for putbacks the entire game and was successful doing so. At 6’6″ with length, explosive leaping, and the ability to adjust in the air, not many can contain him at the basket. It seems that he has really locked in as of late, keeping things simple on offense and focusing solely on what is needed for Pace to be successful as a team.
2021 F Cole Middleton (Pace)- 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, 6 blocks
Although he may be shorter than other big men, Middleton is one of the more tenacious, physical forwards that you will see. The advantages that come with that were on full display on Friday as he held own against Ryan Mutombo similar to the way he did earlier in the year when facing off with UNC signee Walker Kessler. Right around 6’6”, Middleton made up for the inches he gave up to Mutombo with his long arms, powerful body, and all-out effort. He contested shots and gobbled up rebounds throughout the night, which proved to be very important. Middleton had some great finishes in the paint with both hands and gave 2nd and 3rd efforts for offensive rebounds like he usually does. If he can be consistent with his offensive production, he’ll see his recruitment rise significantly during the travel season.
2021 PG Madison Durr (Pace)- 12 points, 2 rebound, 3 assists, 3 steals
It was a quiet 1st half for Durr, but he was important in helping build the Pace lead in the 2nd half. He made an impact on both ends and his size and strength gave him an advantage over the Lovett guards. Durr had a few finishes through contact, used his length on defense, and found guys for open looks. A strong, intense guard, Durr can do a lot of different things for the Knights. He’s continuing to grow into being a full-time PG and given his physical traits, Durr could be a real problem for opponents as a guy who can run an offense and draw help defenders off penetration.
2021 PF/C Ryan Mutombo (Lovett)- 31 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks
Mutombo has been putting up big numbers all season and that didn’t change in Lovett’s toughest challenge of the season against Pace. His progress over the last 2 years has been steady as he is now a consistent threat for 30 points on the offensive end to go along with his defensive prowess. At close to 7 feet, Mutombo has touch that you don’t see from many big men. Once he catches from 15 feet and in, he knows what he’s going to do and gets right to it. He’ll still need to improve at getting off his feet to be able to score against HM big men at the next level, but the base of tools is there. The way he has developed gives signs that he isn’t done and should be even more of a force in the spring.
2021 SG Jay Joshi (Lovett)- 19 points, 4 made 3’s
Not to be forgotten, Joshi has been putting up double-digit points on a regular basis for the Lions as well. His outside shooting was a huge factor in keeping the game close and giving Lovett energy when it was needed. Joshi has a quick release and does not mind hoisting up 3’s that are well behind the arc. He can take and make contested jumpers off the catch, and even had two layups in traffic that he converted on in the game. With opponents putting a ton of focus on Mutombo, having a reliable complement to him on the perimeter is crucial, and that’s what Joshi is giving Lovett this year.