State Tournament Reflections

You can’t spell TEAM with VASJ

Lima Central Catholic entered its Division III Championship Game match up in an unfamiliar position: underdog.

The T-Birds were facing a defending champion in Cleveland Villa Angela St. Joseph that is made up of a collection of high major college talent that had played a monster schedule that included wins over powerhouses Erie (PA) Prep, Mentor, and St. Ignatius.

However, the results also showed eight losses (one was counted as a win via forfeit).

While the losses came to very good teams, it should have been an indicator to all of us that the Vikings, while deserving the label of strong favorite, weren’t nearly as unbeatable as conventional wisdom maintained.

It’s clear that L.C.C. didn’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom. In fact, as I look back on it, I don’t think they ever doubted they would beat VASJ.

Their demeanor from the opening tap told me that they inwardly truly believed that they were going to win and they were not in any way intimidated.

EVERY team SAYS they believe they can win, but it’s usually pretty clear in the body language early in a game whether the underdog really has the faith.

While L.C.C. has a great deal of talent and they all played very well, it’s my opinion that what ultimately did in the Vikings is what does in many teams that are piecemealed together from disparate backgrounds and geography: they really don’t know much about team basketball. They rely solely on the talents of the individuals on the team to overcome their lack of basketball knowledge and savvy.

That’s many times good enough, but the T-Birds have talent, fundamentals and coaching and that’s why they won.

VASJ routinely was carved up by L.C.C.’s half court offense and also had 6-10 Carlton Bragg playing on the perimeter way too often.

When Bragg was posting up and getting touches on pretty much every possession early in the game, the Vikings were at their best.

But as the game wore on, Bragg’s effectiveness faded as he faded farther from the basket. His late three-pointer was the exception to the rule that any shot he took that wasn’t near the goal was a help to the T-Birds.

In addition to their ability to function as a team, L.C.C. also has players that are willing to do what they need to do to win.

In a season that wasn’t always a picnic or a love fest in the locker room, Lima Central Catholic eventually came together.

Once individual agendas were subjugated to the team, the T-Birds were unstoppable.

I guarantee you if Carlton Bragg played for Frank Kill, he’d have been in the post getting touches and not roaming the perimeter.

It’s the difference between a team and a collection of players.

Congratulations T-Birds!

Kimbrough and Simpson shine under the brightest lights

Kimbrough’s 8 points with two three-pointers in the first 2:38 of the game set the tone. His performance sent the message loud and clear that the ‘Birds weren’t scared of the Vikings or the moment.

Kimbrough was named the Division III Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, scoring 22 in the title game after pouring in 19 in the semifinal rout of Roger Bacon.

As for Simpson, it was apparent that the ankle injury he suffered Friday afternoon had reduced his top end speed and quickness but he was still seemingly the fastest and quickest player on the floor.

And at the end of the game, he was the best player too. He scored eight points in each of the final two quarters.

His high-arching teardrop field goal over Dererk Pardon in the fourth quarter is one of the great highlights of all time.

The way he uses that shot to be effective in the paint against bigger players reminds me of maybe the best-ever “little man” in basketball, Isiah Thomas.

Walton and Williams do work

While at a significant height disadvantage in the VASJ game, Jake Williams and Dantez Walton used their strength, toughness, smarts and talent to more than hold their own.

Williams in particular made several big plays, including picking up a loose ball and putting in the hoop just before the first quarter horn to give the T-Birds a 20-14 lead.

Jake ended up with 12 points and 7 rebounds. Walton also had 7 rebounds while scoring 4 points. And don’t forget Cory Stewart, who scored two huge baskets off the bench.

L.C.C. also managed to hold the Vikings in check on the boards. The differential was 33-24 overall but only 11-9 on the offensive glass and VASJ only led 15-9 in second chance points.

Although the T-Birds interior guys certainly didn’t shut down Pardon and/or Bragg they  didn’t get overwhelmed and their collective efforts were key in the victory.

T-Birds save the best for last (minute of the quarter)

L.C.C. scored at the end of each of the first three quarters after holding the ball for at least 60 seconds while VASJ basically let them stand there and wind down the clock.

As recounted earlier, Williams scored at the end of the first quarter. Then Kimbrough buried a triple to end the half and Cory Stewart hit a bucket to end the third period.

Do you think those three minutes and seven points were big?

It was yet another example of great coaching by Frank Kill. It allowed the T-Birds to shorten the game and the fact that they got points each time was pivotal in the outcome.

Simpson shakes off ankle injury

There was much anxiety amongst T-Bird nation after Xavier Simpson suffered an ankle injury in the semifinal win over Roger Bacon.

Even though he returned to the game, many wondered how he’d be for the Championship match up with VASJ.

He showed real toughness with a standout performance.

Maybe he was inspired by the play of Norwalk point guard Ben Haraway, who overcame a late-game knee injury to lead his team down the stretch to a win over Watterson in the D2 Championship Game.

Both of these young men exemplified the toughness you need to win a championship.

Much love for X and Ben!

Knights’ celebration intersects with T-Birds’ preparation

As the Crestview Knights returned to their locker room at Value City Arena, Championship Trophy and pieces of the nets in hand, they walked right past the Lima Central Catholic Thunderbirds who were in the hallway, waiting to take the floor for warm-ups.

As the teams interacted I had the privilege to witness the very genuine exchanges of congratulations and well-wishes between the former NWC rivals.

It was a confirmation that the teams we cover in this area do have a sincere appreciation for each other and like to see them succeed.

Crestview makes “Best” halftime adjustments

Talk about dominating a quarter!

In the semifinal win over Tri Village, Crestview outscored the Patriots 15-4 in the third quarter.

Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas would’ve taken that, as they saw Crestview outpoint them 20-3 in the third period.

A total of 35-7 in two games in the third quarter.

The Gipper has nothing on Crestview Coach Jeremy Best!

Butts in seats

This year’s tournament saw wild fluctuations in attendance.

There were 7 games under 10,000, including what I’m pretty sure is a modern era (St. John Arena and Schott) tournament record low of 8,028 for the St. Thomas Aquinas-Harvest Prep game Thursday afternoon.

At the other end, there were three games over 14,000, including a high water mark of 14,642 for the D2 Title Game with Norwalk vs. Watterson.

It was the first game to top 14,000 since 2010 when the D3 Final (featuring LCC) and one of the D1 Semifinals reached that number.

It’s the highest attendance for a single State Tournament game since 2007. That year several games were over 15,000 including the last “sellout” as 18,288 saw Dayton Dunbar defeated Upper Sandusky (with Jon Diebler), 87-85.

The 12-game total of 129,185 represented the second consecutive year with an increase, albeit slight (up 1.3% from ’12 to ’13 and up .5% from last year to this year).

Some, including me, have openly wondered if the “buzz” that used to accompany the state tournament could be recaptured with a move to Nationwide Arena.

The Arena District would provide the nearby lodging and water holes that are sorely lacking at OSU since the demise of the Holiday Inn on the Lane and the move from St. John Arena to the Schott.

Commissioner Dan Ross told me that the OHSAA has investigated making that move but the main problem is the cost of parking.

Nationwide Arena, unlike Value City Arena, doesn’t own the parking around the facility. That means the cost for the OHSAA would go up significantly.

This year’s gain was based on a strong showing of fans from Upper Arlington and Norwalk.

For now it’s clear that only intriguing matchups and/or schools with huge fan bases will bring large crowds to the State Tournament.

Last 5 years total attendance:

2010: 142,996

2011: 127,825

2012: 126,911

2013: 128,507

2014: 129,185

Locals honored

There were three men with ties to Lima that earned recognition at the State Tournament:

Tom Usher of the Lima News was part of the Class of 2014 of the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame recognized at halftime of the Division I Championship Game.

Former Lima Senior coach Jim Robinson was recognized as one the latest Class set for induction in the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Lima resident William Gephart was selected to officiate the Division III Semifinal between VASJ and Ready.

Commissioner Ross interview

I did a wide-ranging interview with OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross. As I mentioned earlier we dealt with the attendance question but that was just part of our discussion.

We also touched on competitive balance and the fallout from the seven overtime hockey Championship Game tie that resulted in co-champs.

Here is a link to the podcast of our talk:

Walker-Ross interview

Double-Doubles and other statistical notes

  • There were seven “double-doubles” recorded at this year’s State Tournament:

           Derrick Daniels, Dayton Thurgood Marshall: 13 points, 14 rebounds (D2               72-62 loss to Norwalk).

Anthony Moeglin, Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas: 11 points, 14 rebounds (D4 Semifinal 54-41 win vs. Canal Winchester Harvest Prep).

 

Brian Parker, Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph: 17 points, 10 rebounds (D3 Semifinal 55-40 win vs. Columbus Bishop Ready).

 

Danny Hummer, Upper Arlington: 10 points, 10 assists (D1 Semifinal 74-49 win vs. Trotwood Madison).

 

Matt Hughes, Columbus Bishop Watterson: 23 points, 10 rebounds (D2 Championship Game 65-58 loss vs. Norwalk).

 

Jeff Thomas, Norwalk: 18 points, 10 rebounds (D2 Championship Game 65-58 win vs. Columbus Bishop Watterson).

 

Dererk Pardon, Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph: 17 points, 15 rebounds (D3 Championship Game 64-62 loss vs. Lima Central Catholic).

 

  • Upper Arlington’s Kevin Vannatta played 67 of the possible 68 minutes in the Golden Bears’ two games.

 

  • Trotwood Madison made just one of its 16 three-point attempts in their D1 semifinal loss to Upper Arlington. They also had just one assist with 2:00 remaining in the game before recording two in the waning moments to total just 3 for the game.

 

  • In the Division I title game, Upper Arlington and Lakewod St. Edward combined to shoot 60% from the floor.

 

  • That game was also the first title tilt to go overtime since Oak Hill defeated Kalida in 2OT in D4 in 2009.

 

  • It was the first “big-school” championship game of the “Schott Era” (1999-present) to require extra time since Cleveland Heights defeated Zanesville in 1997.

 

  • Ready had the worst shooting game of the tournament, making only 28% of their shots against VASJ.

 

  • The L.C.C.-Roger Bacon game was quite the foul-fest with the teams committing 46 fouls and shooting 55 free throws.

 

  • Kipper Nichols (Lakewood St. Edward) and Ben Haraway (Norwalk) were the only players to post two 20-point games.

 

Nichols had 25 in the semifinal win over Cleveland East Tech and 26 in the title game win over Upper Arlington.

 

Haraway also led his team to a Championship as he scored 20 in the semifinals versus Dayton Thurgood Marshall and a tournament-high 29 in the title game versus Watterson.

 

  • Haraway went 15-of-19 from the free throw line in Norwalk’s Championship Game win. That is the second most free throws ever in the State Tournament. Jerry Dennis (Columbus DeSales, 1987) and Jay Larranaga (Toledo St. Johns, 1993) hold the record with 16.

 

Northwest Dominance

The Northwest District cleaned up with three titles (Norwalk, Lima Central Catholic and Crestview).

It was the first multiple championships year for the NWD since 2008 (New Knoxville and Ottawa Glandorf) and the first three-title year since 2004 (Holgate, O-G and St. Henry).

Hype alert

I was disappointed in the play of highly touted prospects Carlton Bragg of VASJ and V.J. King of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

Bragg, a junior, put up good numbers but I couldn’t help but think that if he played harder or smarter he could have (and should have) dominated and led his team to a title.

Meanwhile, for the second straight tournament, King, a sophomore, laid an egg.

He was held to 5 points on 1-of-6 shooting in 2013’s D2 title game loss to Watterson and the Eagles kept him in check again in this year’s semifinal.

King shot just 3-of-13 while scoring 8 points.

He’s been hyped tremendously in his first two years of high school. Perhaps it has weighed on him on the big stage. Whatever the reason, he’s not lived up to his billing.

My All-Tournament Team

Points of order: Only players whose teams made the finals are eligible. Also, the position declarations are my own. The players may not consider themselves to play the position I’ve given them, but hey, it’s my blog!

 

  • Point Guard: Ben Haraway, Norwalk

 

As mentioned previously, his toughness was evident and he totaled 49 points and 11 assists in his two games.

Honorable Mention: Xavier Simpson, L.C.C.

 

  • Shooting Guard: Martyce Kimbrough, L.C.C.

 

His big shots early in both games got the T-Birds out to great starts. He totaled 41 points.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Vannatta, Upper Arlington

 

  • Small Forward: Jeff Thomas, Norwalk

 

He scored 38 points and pulled down 19 rebounds and was Norwalk’s emotional leader.

Honorable Mention:

 

  • Power Forward: Kipper Nichols, St. Edward

 

To me, he was the best player in the tournament. He can do it all. He shot 20-of-27 in scoring 51 points to lead all scorers in the tournament.

 

  • Post: Tyson Bolenbaugh, Crestview

 

He was a force in both of the Knights’ wins, getting 15 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in the semifinal win over Tri Village and followed that with 18/8/3 in the title game defeat of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Honorable Mention: Dererk Pardon, VASJ

 

Hey, I know you!

I was so pleasantly surprised when I learned that Michelle Mimna was working the sidelines for Fox Sports Ohio’s telecasts of the Championship Games.

Mimna, who attended the same high school as I did (Allen East) had previously done TV work on the MAC Volleyball Tournament and, unbeknownst to me, worked the Girls State Basketball Tournament the week before. 

As I said, I didn’t know she would be working the tournament and when I noticed her on press row on Thursday it was a real pick-me-up.

Her enthusiasm for the job and the tournament were welcomed. I certainly hope she continues to have the opportunity to work for FSO!

BTW, I know what you’re thinking…even though I look a lot older than her, there’s only one year difference in our ages.

 

It was another great season of high school basketball and another outstanding State Tournament. I’m already looking forward to the 93rd edition in 2015.