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2018 Boys Basketball State Tournament Preview

Division I

By Jeff Rapp, SportsRappUp.com
Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller (25-3) – When you have a Hall of Fame resume and a gaudy record like coach Carl Kremer – the 27-year coach has an astonishing 544 wins and counting as well as three state titles – not too many people are going to feel sorry for your near-misses. Still, Kremer and the Crusaders will have visions of what could have been when they step on the Schottenstein Center floor. Last March, they entered town with an unblemished record and put their stifling defense on full display in the championship game only to be nipped in the final moments by Massillon Jackson. A proud program that has produced the likes of Byron Larkin, Josh Duncan, Matt Sylvester and Bobby Brannen, Moeller once again has size, athleticism, talent and experience. The Crusaders also show no let-up on the defensive end. They entered the postseason allowing just 43.4 points per game and managed to cool off teams such as Cincinnati Withrow, Springfield and Huber Heights Wayne to return to the state playoffs. All three losses came to out-of-state schools and Moeller, which has won the Greater Catholic League 15 of the last 18 seasons, currently is riding an 18-game win streak. Even more daunting for the rest of the field, the Crusaders field a starting lineup entirely of seniors and rotate in at least three others on a regular basis. Sophomore forward Max Land is a notable exception. Jeremiah Davenport, a rugged 6-5 guard, leads the way offensively at nearly 16 points per game. Meanwhile, 6-10 forward Jaxson Hayes could break out under the bright lights. He checks in at 12.0 ppg and 7.0 rebounds per game. Guard Isaiah Payton is a steady performer who runs the show, mixes in right around 10 ppg and helps set the defense with sticky pressure up top. Kremer has directed Moeller to six previous state final fours and cut down the nets in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
Lorain (22-5) – The Titans want to be remembered – and that’s not going to be a problem if they advance to the Division I state championship, which will require a win over perennial power Cincinnati Moeller. Coach John Rositano didn’t experience a run like this in his previous four years at the school and you’d be hard-pressed to find a loyal Lorain fan who can recall the program’s previous state championship appearance since it happened in the banner-hanging year of 1923. To add context to how long ago that was, Babe Ruth was the American League MVP and New York played its first game in Yankee Stadium in 1923. Still, even without any real history from which to draw, don’t expect the Titans to be quivering at the Schottenstein Center considering they had to take down the likes of Lakewood St. Edward and Toledo St. John’s Jesuit in the Akron/Toledo Regional. Counting the victory over Strongsville in the district final, Lorain enters Columbus with the confidence that comes from three straight three-point wins, each of them a display of poise and clutch play. The Titans don’t boast an overly deep roster but are blessed with reliable performers in junior guard Devone Grant (20.5 points per game), junior forward Taevon Pierre-Louis (16.2 ppg, 8.6 rebounds per game) and sophomore swingman Jordan Jackson (9.6 ppg). Grant enters fresh off a 29-point outburst against St. John’s including 21 in the second half and four free throws in the final minute. Pierre-Louis stands 6-6 and is a glass-eater along with being another go-to option. Jackson also has good size at 6-4 and is Lorain’s best playmaker. The team’s top substitute is senior guard Jaiden Sledge, who likes get after it defensively. The Titans finished second in the Lake Erie League and continued to elevate their play in the postseason, in large part because of their commitment to team defense.
Pickerington Central (18-8) – On one hand, the Tigers’ postseason emergence felt normal given the school’s amazing success and plethora of top talent in recent years. After all, Pick Central was a state semifinalist just last year and has boasted the exploits of major college prospects such as Sterling Manley (currently at North Carolina) and Ibi Watson (Michigan). However, the road for coach Eric Krueger’s team included plenty of bumps and moments of doubt. With superstar guard and UNC signee Jeremiah Francis sidelined with a knee injury he suffered at the outset of the season, the Tigers hit a rough patch where they lost four games in a row and seven of nine. They got matters turned with what would be the first of three wins over rival Gahanna Lincoln and then cranked up their defense in the postseason, holding the Lions to 41 points in the district playoffs and central Ohio powers Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Bradley to 38 and 39, respectively, in the regional tournament. Central shows up to win and expects to win, and that alone makes for a dangerous foe – even for top-ranked Solon, which awaits their state semifinal showdown. The Tigers won the 2012 state championship behind the heroics of Jae’Sean Tate, Caris LeVert and Taco Charlton and former head coach Jerry Francis. Krueger wants to take Central back to the winner’s circle and he has several horses in the stable even with the younger Francis out of action. Forward Adrian Nelson has logged an eye-opening senior season and leads the team 13.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. The 6-6 University of Detroit signee shut down a game at Groveport-Madison this year after he broke the rim on a vicious dunk. Coleton Landis, a 6-7 center, has helped man the middle and Krueger isn’t averse to use his depth at guard, where 6-3 Javohn Garcia has been a scoring threat (12.3 ppg) but reserves Jaidon Lipscomb and Juan Woods could be asked to play lengthy minutes and can make their share of plays.
Solon (26-1) – The Comets have been one of the top outfits in northeast Ohio for years and their breakthrough seemed inevitable in recent campaigns, only it was yet to happen. This year, fourth-year coach Tony DeCesare and crew made sure there was no doubt as his team racked up 83 points per game and won games by an average of 18 points. The Comets are high-octane and have scoring from all over the court, beginning with cat-quick point guard Sincere Carry, who pops for 23.7 points per game and dishes out 8.3 assists per contest. His backcourt mate, Trent Williams, produces 18.4 ppg. Guard Mike Bekelja (15.8 ppg, 5.6 rebounds per game, 3.7 apg) and forward David Marbury (10.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) also can fill it and benefit from DeCesare’s uptempo style. Ryan Bergen and Brandon Brown are among several productive reserves. The Comets proved they were worthy of their nickname all season by scoring 80 or more in 16 of their 26 wins, including twice hitting the century mark. They were slowed a bit early in the postseason but reignited their offense in the regional tournament while turning away Shaker Heights 83-76 and Copley 81-60. Bekelja nailed six threes and logged a career-high 35 points in the win over Shaker. Carry took over down the stretch and added 23 points. Solon is out to prove its game is worthy of the big stage and opportunity awaits with a matchup with Pickerington Central next on the agenda. The Comets don’t have a player listed above 6-4 and most are in the 6-0 range, but, as they say, speed kills.

Division II

By Eric Frantz, MaxPreps
Trotwood-Madison (25-3) – The Rams are making their fourth appearance at the state tourney and have unfinished business after falling to St. Vincent-St. Mary in the semifinals last season. Trotwood was the 2006 Division I runner-up and also reached the D-I state semis in 2014. The Rams, who are riding an 18-game win streak, feature an offense that averages 91 points per game and has surpassed 100 nine times. All six of Trotwood’s postseason games have been decided by double-digits. Senior guard Myles Belyeu (25.1 points) and junior guard Amari Davis (20.7) are a dangerous 1-2 scoring punch. Each eclipsed 1,000 points this season and both average seven rebounds and two assists. Trotwood is trying to record a rare double-double. The Rams went 15-0 and won a D-III football state championship in December.
Byesville Meadowbrook (22-6) – The Colts, 11-1 in their last 12 games, have reached Columbus for the first time. Meadowbrook avenged a 60-52 regular season loss to John Glenn, by beating the Muskies 36-31 in the regional final. The Colts were 0-2 in their previous trips to the Elite Eight (1988 and 2008). Meadowbrook, behind 31 points from senior guard Trey Singleton, rallied from a 10-point third quarter deficit to beat Fairland 60-57 in the regional semifinals. Singleton averages 24 points, five rebounds and two assists. Junior center Davis Black adds 12 points and eight rebounds. Meadowbrook allows 49 points per game. The Colts are three-time defending Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 4A champions. Meadowbrook was 11-5 after the first 16 games this season.
Lexington (23-5) – The Minutemen, making their fourth appearance in the state tournament, are 3-0 in state semifinals. Lexington won state titles in 1989 and 1991 and was runner-up in 1972. The ’89 and ’91 teams were powered in part by former Michigan State and NBA player Jamie Feick. Lexington is 14-1 in its last 15 games and has won its last four postseason contests by single-digits, including a 65-64 victory over Bay Village Bay in the regional final. Junior forward Cade Stover averages 18 points, 13 rebounds and two assists. Stover is a highly-touted football recruit who ranks as the fourth best prospect in the state in the Class of 2019 according to 247sports.com. The outside linebacker holds 22 offers including Ohio State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Oregon and Texas. Stover had 20 points and nine rebounds in the win over Bay. He had 21 points and 14 rebounds in a regional semifinal win over Wauseon. Senior guard Ben Vore adds 10 points and four rebounds.
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (19-8) – Defending state champion SVSM is making its 15th trip to Columbus and third in a row. Once 9-8 on the season, the Irish have won 10 straight. SVSM is seeking its eighth state championship. The Irish are currently tied with Middletown for most state titles in Ohio history (7). Junior Lunden Day averages 15 points, four rebounds and two assists, while senior Scott Walter chips in 11 points and four rebounds. Freshman Seth Wilson is one to watch. The frosh contributes 12 points, four rebounds and three assists per game. SVSM beat Trotwood-Madison 81-71 in the third game of season and lost 69-66 to Division I semifinalist Pickerington Central in the season opener.  The Irish also beat Trotwood in last year’s state semifinals. Veteran head coach Dru Joyce is 347-105 in 17 years at the school.

Division III

By Kurt Stubbs, MaxPreps
Cleveland Heights Lutheran East (14-13) vs. Cincinnati Deer Park (27-0)
Lutheran East returns to the state tournament in consecutive seasons having won the Div. IV state title last March. Ohio’s new competitive balance bumped the Falcons up a division, but the results to this point have remained the same. Lutheran East was just 7-13 following a 71-54 loss to Div. I entrant Lorain on February 17. The Falcons haven’t lost since. Anthony Jones’ team finished just 4-8 in the Lake Erie League, which was good for fifth place. The conference features Div. I heavyweights Cleveland Heights, Lorain and Maple Heights and D2 power Warrensville Heights. The schedule also featured the likes of St. Ignatius, St. Edward, Div. IV entrant Cornerstone Christian, Gilmour Academy, and Revere. Needless to say, the Falcons were prepared for a difficult tournament path.
Lutheran East’s title repeat was in serious jeopardy against a very good Beachwood team in the district finals. The Falcons were looking up at a 38-23 deficit in the third quarter before outscoring the Bison, 49-24, the rest of the way. Senior Jordan Burge, the only returnee from a year ago and an Ashland commitment, produced 25 points and 12 rebounds to help secure the comeback victory. One of the state’s top freshman, E.J. Farmer, tallied 22 points and sophomore Nehemiah Benson added 12 points and 12 rebounds, while senior sharpshooter David Gulley chipped in 11 counters.
The Falcons found themselves in a similar position in a regional semifinal matchup with Wooster Triway. The Titans, led by talented 6-foot-5 Gabe Walker’s 25 points, gave Lutheran East all it wanted and then some. The Titans led, 30-29, at intermission, but Burge and company would fight back eventually garnering a narrow triumph. Burge totaled 14 points with eight coming in the final frame and Farmer equaled Burge’s point total. Benson, a transfer from Streetsboro, finished with nine points and seven rebounds, while senior Dominic Braswell added 13 points.
Lutheran East sealed its trip to Columbus with a win over Canton Central Catholic. The Falcons pulled out some new tricks to help reach their fourth state tournament since 2005. Lutheran East, who was playing in its third-straight regional final, held the Crusaders scoreless for nearly 10 minutes in the 2nd half, which was aided by a stall tactic to force CCC’s hand. The decision worked perfectly in Jones’ favor. Gulley, a Solon transfer, paced the Falcons with 14 points, Farmer contributed 13, and Benson notched nine.
Cincinnati Deer Park comes to the state tournament as one of only two remaining unbeatens in the state of Ohio. The other, Harvest Prep, could be Deer Park’s Saturday opponent if both are able to advance. That won’t be an easy task as Deer Park will face defending Div. IV state champion Lutheran East. The Wildcats are currently 27-0 having faced very little resistance in the regular season with only three games decided by fewer than 10 points. Prior to the arrival of Gentry and several transfers, Deer Park was just 3-66 in its previous three seasons. Gentry wasted little time in shaking things up last season with the arrival of freshman Mark Wise and transfers Jalen Rose (Hughes) and Ibrahima Athie (Winton Woods). The result ended in an 11-13 mark. This year, with new additions in Steve Gentry Jr. (Purcell Marian), Joseph Hocker (Holmes, KY) and leading scorer Damani Mcentire (Oak Hill Academy JV), the Wildcats are on the brink of finishing a remarkable turnaround reeling off 27 consecutive wins despite nary a player earning 1st Team all-district honors.
The last three games have been anything but easy. Leading scorer Damani Mcentire has totaled just 24 points in the last three games, yet, Deer Park found a way to remain unbeaten and keep its dream alive of winning a state championship. Gentry’s team trailed a young Dayton Stivers team, 34-29 at half, but finished strong with a decisive 13-point edge in the 4th quarter to advance to regional play. Sophomore Mark Wise, who has been nothing short of spectacular in the tournament, finished with 24 points, while Gentry Jr. totaled 13 points, Hocker netted 10, and Mcentire contributed nine points. The regional semis appeared to be the end of the storybook season for the Wildcats as Gentry’s club trailed nearly all 32 minutes in regulation against a game Purcell Marian squad. Deer Park held leads at 2-0 and 4-3 but didn’t pull ahead again until Rose’s two-pointer in OT gave the ‘Cats a 66-64 lead. Rose forced overtime with two freebies at the end of regulation and ended the game with 10 points. Overtime was possible as Purcell Marian missed 19 free-throws in the 4th quarter and OT. Wise scored 24 of his game-high 26 points in the 2nd half and overtime, which spearheaded a, 65-48, advantage for the winners despite Mcentire, Athie, and Hocker all fouling out. Gentry Jr. backed Wise with 15 of his own and Dayshawn Blair added 10.
Deer Park punched its ticket to Columbus by defeating conference foe Madeira for the third time. The Wildcats were never seriously challenged despite the Mustangs refusing to go away. Rose led the winners with 20 points, while Wise and Gentry Jr. evenly split 20 of their own. With the win, the Wildcats were able to give Gentry his first trip to Columbus.
Columbus Africentric (20-6) vs. Harvest Prep (28-0)
Two teams quite familiar with one another will meet in the other Division III state semifinal contest. Both teams, like Lutheran East, were bumped up a division due to the new competitive balance. The two districts in Columbus are split up and sent in different directions, so Harvest Prep as the No. 1 seed chose to try its hand at Ohio University, while Africentric went to Bowling Green.
Harvest Prep returns to the Schottenstein Center for the first time since losing a heartbreaker at the buzzer to Tri-Village in the 2015 championship game. The Warriors will be looking for their first state championship, and in doing so could win a remarkable 30 games. David Dennis Sr.’s team has scored better than 100 points on eight occasions this season.
The Warriors have played in 28 games this season and only three times have the games been settled by fewer than 10 points. One of those games happened to be in the regional final against a Garaway team the Warriors defeated by 31 points in late December. This time, however, the game resembled nothing like the first. There were eight ties, nine lead changes, and Harvest Prep never led by more than eight points and needed overtime to secure another trip to the Final Four. Trailing 48-46, sophomore CJ Anthony would tie the game with a bucket, which allowed the Warriors to force overtime. The Warriors outpointed the Pirates, 11-5, in the extra session. Anthony, a 1st Team all-district performer, scored a game-high 18 points, junior Brandon Beavers, a Grove City transfer, added 14, and fellow 1st Teamer CJ Penha totaled 11.
Harvest Prep faced one of its toughest tests in a February contest with Marion Pleasant and eventually came out on top with a 10-point victory, so it was not crazy to think a tournament rematch with the Spartans could be interesting. However, the Warriors would have none of it, handling the Spartans 71-49 as Anthony and Penha combined for 40 points. Harvest Prep would then turn back a good Bishop Ready team, 64-48, followed by an 18-point win over Wheelersburg despite giving up 35 points and 13 rebounds to star junior Tanner Holden. Penha and Anthony combined for 43 points in the victory.
Columbus Africentric has taken a completely different path from its counterpart. The Nubians started the year just 6-4, but currently own 15 wins in their last 17 games. Africentric’s losses have come to some perennial powers in Columbus South, Toledo St. Francis (Bates’ alma mater), Eastmoor Academy, Walnut Ridge and Upper Arlington.
The Nubians arrive in the Final Four thanks to some late game heroics from the Central District Player of the Year, Tre’ Baumgardner, who delivered a game-winning three-pointer to rip the hearts out of the Archbold faithful and deny the Blue Streaks a return trip to Columbus. The senior, and Minnesota State commitment, scored 20 points on the evening and put the Nubians in the state semifinals for the first time since back-to-back trips in 2011 and 2012.
Until Saturday, Michael Bates’ team hadn’t played a tournament game closer than 16 points (Johnstown-Monroe) with sizable victories over previously once-beaten Northmor, a good Johnstown-Monroe team, and a hot Carey squad. The Nubians shot nearly 55% from the field in the 22-point victory over Carey. Baumgardner has enjoyed games of 22, 33, 15, and 20 points over his last four contests, and has been clutch when it mattered most and really has a case for the most valuable player in DIII. Classmate Jah Bennett, who has really surfaced this season, tallied 21 points in the win over Carey and is second on the team in scoring behind Baumgardner.

Division IV

By Kurt Stubbs, MaxPreps
Pandora-Gilboa (26-1) vs. Marion Local (23-4)
Northwest Ohio is well represented in this matchup with Pandora-Gilboa out of Putnam County meeting Maria Stein Marion Local from Mercer County. The Rockets have enjoyed a season that won’t soon be forgotten, racking up 26 wins en route to Columbus. Coach Joe Braidic is in year two of his second stint with the Rockets. The veteran sideline general was the headman at P-G from 1998-2009 before joining the bench as an assistant at Bluffton University. Braidic helped guide P-G to 16 wins a season ago, which followed a 7-win season in the previous campaign.
Gilboa’s last defeat came on December 23 in a 55-52 setback to Upper Scioto Valley. The Rockets went 11-0 in Blanchard Valley Conference, besting the likes of North Baltimore, Van Buren, Hopewell-Loudon and Arlington. Pandora-Gilboa is trying to become the first BVC school to capture a boys basketball state championship since Findlay Liberty-Benton in 1995. Those Eagles, led by Andy Butler and Matt Moser, defeated another Midwest Athletic Conference Delphos St. John’s to win gold.
The Rockets’ road to Columbus started out with a lopsided victory over Holgate before receiving its stiffest test, which came from fellow Putnam County high school Miller City. Pandora-Gilboa trailed, 43-42, in the 4th quarter, but managed to get five consecutive stops to end the game outscoring the Wildcats, 7-2, down the stretch. Junior Jared Breece tallied 18 points, which included nine in the final frame. Drew Johnson, a 1st Team all-district performer, added 17. Braidic’s squad would then handle Kalida and Sycamore Mohawk by a combined 42 points before getting a red hot Convoy Crestview team in the regional finals. The Knights, winners of 19-straight games, were turned back by a stingy defense and 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 5-of-8 from distance by Johnson. Junior Riley Larcom added 14 points, Breece was good for 10, and senior Eli Phillips tallied nine points, 10 rebounds and eight steals.
The Flyers will be making their fifth state tournament appearance and first since a runner-up finish in 2004. Marion Local will be looking for their third boys basketball state championship. Many of the Flyers taking the hardwood on Thursday were also members of Marion Local’s state football championship team this past December in Canton. Starters Nathan Bruns (quarterback), Matt Rethman, Tyler Prenger and Tyler Mescher were all starters on the Marion Local’s 10th state football title winning team.
Kurt Goettmoeller’s team started the year 2-2 following another late start due to the success of the football program. Marion Local is 21-2 since the slow start with its last loss coming to Fort Loramie on February 3. The Flyers other trio of setbacks were by a combined 13 points. Marion Local avenged the loss to Fort Loramie with a convincing, 62-47, triumph of the Redskins in its regional final contest last Friday giving Goettmoeller his first trip to Columbus after three attempts. The Flyers jumped out to an 18-4 lead thanks to holding Fort Loramie without a field goal in the first 12 minutes of the game and never looked back. Prenger led the way with 23 points and Nathan Bruns totaled 17.
Before Marion Local reached regional play and defeated Springfield Catholic Central, the Flyers had to deal with conference rival St. Henry in what proved to be their most difficult hurdle. Marion Local defeated St. Henry in December by 37 points, but would need overtime this time around to escape with a 39-38 victory. Following a slugfest, the two teams were tied at 27 when regulation came to a conclusion. Marion Local made just 14-of-28 free-throws for the game, while St. Henry was just 2-of-2. Bruns led the Flyers with 12 points.
Cornerstone Christian (20-7) vs. Berlin Hiland (23-5)
Two teams that got off to a slow start in 2017 finished anything but in 2018. Cornerstone Christian started the year with just five wins in 11 starts. Those losses included Cleveland Heights, Cleveland Central Catholic, Lakewood St. Edward, Killian (FL) and Solon. The Patriots did manage to defeat Cleveland St. Ignatius and Elyria Catholic during that stretch. Following the tough start, Dan Selle’s team has won 15-of-16, which includes triumphs of Garfield Heights, Lutheran East, Gilmour Academy, Mentor, Cleveland VASJ, Warren JFK, Bristol, Rittman, and previously unbeaten Mansfield St. Peter’s. The only setback came to Lyndhurst Brush, 50-48, on January 28 in a game the Patriots led by 11 points at half. This is arguably the best resume in the history of Ohio Div. IV basketball.
Cornerstone Christian ran away with the 2016 state championship and was a heavy favorite to return a season ago before Warren JFK upset the Patriots in the district finals despite 41 points from Michael Bothwell. The Furman signee has been nothing short of sensational in his senior season making sure a repeat of last season doesn’t happen. The four-year mainstay for Coach Selle has made a serious case for Mr. Basketball saving his biggest games for the best competition.
After a lopsided win against Maplewood to start tournament play, Cornerstone got revenge on Warren JFK thanks to 29 points and 11 rebounds from Bothwell. The lefty was good for 13 in a win over a good Bristol squad in the district final, while notching 22 as Cornerstone dismissed a solid Rittman club. Senior Kendall Saunders, an exchange student from Canada, added 14 points. In a regional final showdown with unbeaten Mansfield St. Pete’s, Cornerstone gave the crowd little reason to think it would see a nail-biter. The Patriots jumped out to a 35-16 halftime lead and left no doubt about their spot in the Final Four. Bothwell tallied 21 and Saunders chipped in 16 as did Ja’shawn Robinson and Ricky Adams aided with 11.
The seven-year journey for Bothwell and classmates Martel Ferrell and Titus Wheeler, which resulted in a 54-0 middle school record, is coming to a close with the possibility of a second state title.
When people think about small school basketball in the state of Ohio, there is a good chance Berlin Hiland will come to mind quickly. The Hawks are synonymous with winning basketball games whether it’s boys basketball or girls basketball. Hiland is making its 10th appearance in Columbus and first since capturing back-to-back state titles in 2011 and 2012 behind standouts Dylan Kaufman and Seger Bonifant. The Hawks will be looking for their fourth state gold joining the two teams mentioned above and the 1993 squad under the tutelage of the late, legendary head coach Perry Reese Jr. and star player Hank “Junior” Raber.
This version of the Hawks started the year just (6-5), and it looked like Hiland may be in for an average season. However, with hindsight being 20-20, those five losses ended up coming to very good teams and Hiland hasn’t lost since January 9th winning 17 consecutive games.
Hiland and Cornerstone have a common opponent, which is Mansfield St. Peter’s. The Hawks dropped a, 51-41, decision back on December 16th, while Cornerstone beat the Spartans rather handedly this past Friday. The two teams have a chance to play each other at the state tournament with the East District moving to the Athens Regional this year after many years of being in the Canton Regional, which is the region Cornerstone Christian resides in.
Hiland had little trouble in sectional play, but district play was not quite as easy. The Hawks faced an acid test from conference rival Malvern (44-36) before eliminating Hannibal River (42-29) and the East District Player of the Year Lukas Isaly. Regional play provided little resistance for Mark Schlabach’s club winning by an average of 36.5 points per game in the two contests in Athens. Hiland drilled 13 triples in its win over Peebles in the regional finals with Kobe Troyer scoring 25 points and Scott Troyer adding 16. The two Troyer’s, who aren’t related, are both shooting better than 45% from behind the arc on the season.