BOWLING GREEN – With March Madness currently engulfing college basketball and its fans, a little bit of madness was on display for the Division II boys basketball regional at Bowling Green’s Stroh Center Thursday night.
After the opening game which saw Bay Village Bay take down the second ranked team in the state, Columbus Beechcroft, top ranked Wauseon fell victim to a fourth quarter rally from Lexington in a 52-46 loss to the Minutemen, ending their season.
Although happy to be moving on, Lexington coach Scott Hamilton was quick to share his admiration for the Wauseon basketball program in the post-game press conference.
“A lot of respect goes out to Wauseon,” he said. “The staff, their players, just a great game for a regional semi. Some of their actions on the floor. They are just well coached you can tell. Going through the line at the end of the game, some of the things that were said. You can tell, it’s a class program top to bottom.”
The Indians led 22-14 at the half, but had to stave off a run from the Minutemen in the third quarter as well.
Mason Kearns got Lexington within five on a three-pointer 11 seconds in to the second half, and after a scoring drought from both teams, Wauseon’s Levi Seiler hit a pair of free throws.
Leading the charge for the Minutemen in the second half was junior Cade Stover, an Ohio State football recruit. He finished with 17 second half points and 21 for the game.
Stover’s pair of buckets, along with a hoop off a backdoor cut from Bryant Givand, trimmed the Wauseon lead to 24-23 just before the midway point of the third.
“He was good,” said Wauseon coach Chad Burt on Stover. “Very physical. And you know, we heard a lot about him as a football player. Division I recruit and all that. Before I watched some film on him, I guess I stereotyped (him as a) 6’5” stud (football player). I heard freak athlete, this and that. So like I said, I kind of stereotyped him as a football player playing basketball. But the reality is, he’s a basketball player. He’s very skilled – very good. Obviously very athletic, very strong, (and) he made a lot of basketball plays tonight.”
However, Wauseon would respond.
Senior big man Austin Rotroff scored inside, Lexington’s Josh Aiello split a pair of free throws, Owen Newlove of Wauseon got fouled on a putback attempt and converted a pair, then Rotroff scored four straight to put them back up eight.
Givand’s bucket at the 1:07 mark was the final score of the third, as the Indians took a 32-26 lead into the final frame.
In the fourth, the Indians overcame some early pressure from the Minutemen to bump the lead back to near double digits. After a Stover triple, Brooks Gype converted a drive to the hoop for Wauseon, then Seiler split a pair of free throws to make it 39-31 with 5:47 to go.
The Minutemen, who outscored Wauseon 26-14 in the fourth, then went on an 10-0 run to grab the lead. Givand got them going by getting to the line and knocking down a pair, followed by a three and a three-point play from Stover to knot it at 39 with 3:33 left.
“Sometimes basketball’s a simple thing,” said Burt of Lexington’s late rally. “I thought they made a lot of shots (in the fourth quarter). They got to the (free throw) line. And again, it’s such a confidence thing for any basketball team I think. I thought, first half we defended them very well. We really didn’t change a lot the second half. But, again, they made shots that maybe they didn’t make in the first half.”
Lexington got its first lead of the game 26 seconds later on two free throws from Stover. Wauseon had the chance to tie it back up, but missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 and the Minutemen grabbed the rebound.
Kearns then hit a long deuce, but Rotroff countered with a pair of free throws to keep the margin at two, 43-41. Stover converted off his own miss on the ensuing Minutemen possession, and Aiello tacked on two free throws to put them up six with 1:20 remaining.
The Indians made one last push as Gype hit a three and Newlove scored inside around one of two at the line from Givand, cutting it to 48-46 with just 36 seconds to go. But, Kearns salted it away with four straight from the charity stripe.
Both teams made only six shots in the first half, however, Wauseon added 9 of 10 from the foul line. They also had nine points in the first half from Seiler, whose basket at the horn gave the Indians a 13-8 advantage after one.
Stover’s putback started scoring in the second quarter, then Seiler responded with a triple, and Rotroff hit two free throws to make it 18-10 with 3:01 left until half. Lexington got consecutive hoops from Ben Vore and Aiello to pull them within four, but Seiler ended the half hitting four straight from the charity stripe.
Wauseon had three in double figures as Rotroff finished with 13 points, Newlove chipped in with 12, and Seiler 10.
Stover’s double-double of 21 points and 14 boards paced Lexington. Givand and Kearns each added nine points for the Minutemen.
It was the first loss of the season for Wauseon, who finishes the 2017-18 campaign 25-1. Although making a return trip to state and ultimately winning it was the goal, coach Burt could not be more proud of his team. Especially the seniors, who he said are special both on and off the court.
“I’m the high school calculus teacher, and I’ve got seven seniors in my AP high school calculus class. And I think that says something,” said Burt. “They are very intelligent kids. Their GPAs are very good. Their ACT scores are very good. They are great in the community. They are great in the school.
“They’ve left a legacy. We’ve got some young kids in the program that hopefully were taking good notes. And can continue with the tradition that these guys have certainly layed the foundation.”
Rotroff, the Duqesne signee, echoed those sentiments.
“I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by such great teammates,” said the senior. “Both in basketball skill and just their character. And the bonds that we’ve made throughout the past couple seasons with all our guys on the team has just been amazing. We are pretty much inseparable off the court as well.”
Lexington would advance to state with a 65-64 win over Bay in the regional final Saturday.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010