COLUMBUS – Turnovers and a rough day shooting at the foul line for Wauseon proved to be the difference in the battle between Northwest Ohio and Northeast Ohio for the Division II Boys Basketball State Championship Saturday morning at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary forced 23 Indian turnovers and garnered 25 points off those turnovers, allowing them to pull away for the 45-30 victory.
“The reality is, we haven’t faced that kind of pressure and that kind of athletes,” said Wauseon coach Chad Burt on the difference down the stretch. “Obviously, Eastmoor on Thursday presented a challenge like that. But those kids (at) St. Vincent-St. Mary, are just such good basketball players. They do some things I think from a coaching standpoint, you really don’t teach.
“You watch their kids away from the ball. They are just ball hawks. Kind of a football analogy, it’s kind of like a bunch of free safeties out there. They just read and make plays.”
What ultimately was the biggest stretch in the game came in the final 2:08 when the Fighting Irish went on a 10-0 to close it out with the help of some Wauseon giveaways.
After the Indians had cut the lead to 5, The flurry started with a bucket by the Fighting Irish’s Lunden McDay, then Division II Player of the Year Jayvon Graves added a steal and score, Justin Sampson also converted off a steal, and Deamonte’ King’s deuce with 1:12 to go made it 43-30.
A Jordan Addison dunk with four seconds to go put an exclamation point on the Irish win. It is the school’s seventh boys basketball state championship and third since 2009.
“I had been telling our guys that, our 11 guys that we play today are gonna be better than their seven,” said veteran St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dru Joyce. “We were just gonna wear them down sooner or later. And you could see in that last minute when we turned the pressure back up again. They just couldn’t respond.”
The Indians were in good position to start the game as both teams traded blows in the early going.
Back-to-back threes by Graves and Jonathan Williams of St. Vincent-St. Mary put them up 8-6 at the 3:20 mark of the first quarter, but Austin Rotroff’s three-point lead gave the lead back to the Indians.
Wauseon extended their lead with 1:25 remaining on Carter Bzovi’s three-pointer from the left wing.
But, a change in momentum came 32 seconds later when Rotroff picked up his second foul while guarding Graves. He would be forced to sit out until late in the second quarter, helping the Irish make a run.
“Give them credit, I thought they attacked him pretty well as a whole,” said Burt of the Irish strategy against Rotroff. “I think defensively they did a great job of making his life difficult. With some halfing and some fronting action that they did. And then with their physical defenders, we had a hard time reversing the basketball. That is kind of the name of our game – we like to reverse the basketball.”
Graves split the ensuing free throws, then McDay added 1 of 2 from the line to make it 12-10 after one.
A series of ties and lead changes led to the score being knotted at 14 at the 6:03 mark of the second quarter after Sampson’s drive to the basket. This was the start of a 10-0 Irish run, which was once again aided by their pressure defense.
Graves’ bucket on a fastbreak opportunity broke the tie, he then hit a pair of free throws, Chris Painter added a triple, and a Graves dunk off a steal put the margin at 22-14 with just over two minutes left in the half.
“They’ve got great athletes,” commented Wauseon point guard Brendan Britsch of the Irish. “They just apply pressure and it was difficult. I thought we settled in after awhile, but they cranked it (the pressure) back up.”
Rotroff got back in the game and had a thunderous dunk at the 1:41 mark, however, Graves closed the half with a basket to keep them up eight at the half.
The Wauseon big man stayed out of foul trouble in the third quarter and scored eight points. Graves answered with nine points of his own, equaling the 35-26 difference after three quarters.
Rotroff finished with 18 points for Wauseon, while Graves led all scorers with 25. No one else was in double figures for either team, but Bzovi was close with eight.
The Indians got within 35-30 midway through the fourth on 1 of 2 free throws from Brooks Gype, then a putback hoop and 1 of 2 at the line by Rotroff. However, it could have been much closer as they missed a total of five foul shots in that stretch.
In total, the Indians were just 4 of 13 at the foul line in the game.
Wauseon also had a three from Bzovi go halfway down and then pop out with about three minutes left which would have put them within two. The Irish and their defense slammed the door on the Indians’ hopes of a come back from that point on.
“Sometimes you step out of a game and you break it down and analyze it from a coaching standpoint. I don’t know what we’d do different,” concluded Burt. “Our kids played their tails off. Shooting, it comes and goes. We’ve talked about that all year. But god dang, defensively we got a lot of stops to start the fourth quarter we just couldn’t put the dang ball in the hole.”
The Indians did shoot 42 percent from the floor to 40 percent from St. Vincent-St. Mary, but they attempted 19 fewer shots than the Irish.
Wauseon ends their season with a 27-2 record, with their only blemishes coming to Genoa back in December and in the state championship Saturday.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010