Area players gearing up for March Madness
A group of former central Ohio standouts should have an opportunity to get reacquainted this week when Ohio University plays Michigan in the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Led by the AP Big Ten Freshman of the Year, 2012 Northland graduate Trey Burke, the Wolverines are in the NCAA tournament for the second season in a row.
At 7:20 p.m. Friday, March 16, in Nashville, Tenn., fourth-seeded Michigan will face a 13th-seeded Ohio squad that has several central Ohio ties.
The Bobcats, who won their second Mid-American Conference champion-ship in three seasons when they edged Akron 64-63 on March 10, have DeSales’ Nick Goff and Nick Kellogg, Dublin Scioto’s David McKinley, Grove City’s Jon Smith and Gahanna’s Stevie Taylor on their roster.
Michigan is 24-9 and Ohio is 27-7 heading into the Midwest Regional matchup.
“I’m very excited because this is one of the most special teams I’ve been on,” Burke said. “To have a share of the Big Ten (regular-season) title (with Ohio State and Michigan State) shows a lot about this team. I can tell this team is hungry. We all come out onto the court and allow each other to play.”
Burke averages 14.8 points, while Kellogg (8.9 points per game) and Smith (3.7 ppg, 4.6 rebounds) have started most of the season for the Bobcats.
The only time Burke played on the high school level against Kellogg or Goff, who graduated from DeSales in 2011 and 2009, respectively, was in the 2008 regular season when Burke was not a key player. Northland beat DeSales 62-40 in the Play-By-Play Classic that season, as Kellogg scored 14 points, Goff had 13 and Burke scored one point.
Burke and Taylor faced each other twice in the high school postseason.
Taylor, a 2012 graduate, led Gahanna to a 71-45 win over Northland in a 2010 Division I regional final. Last season, Northland defeated Gahanna 57-52 in a Division I regional semifinal on the way to a state runner-up finish.
In Smith’s final prep game, he had 13 points and Burke scored 16 as Northland beat Grove City 70-64 in a 2009 Division I regional semifinal on its way to a state title. Smith originally signed with St. Louis but transferred to Ohio after his freshman season.
The Wolverines and Bobcats are in the same region as top-seeded North Carolina, second-seeded Kansas and third-seeded Georgetown. The winner plays Temple, California or South Florida in a third-round game Sunday, March 18.
Kellogg scored nine points in the MAC championship game in support of D.J. Cooper, who had a game-high 23. Smith scored three points and Taylor saw action as well.
“It’s been fun having the other guys on the team (from central Ohio),” Kellogg said. “I’ve been pretty pleased with my role and I’ve been blessed to play as many minutes as I’ve played.”
•HER WEST VIRGINIA HOME — After playing in the 2008 McDonald’s All-American game and averaging 17.6 points and 13 rebounds for her prep career, 2008 Eastmoor Academy graduate Ayana Dunning played in 23 games for Louisiana State as a freshman in 2008-09 before transferring to West Virginia.
The 6-3 redshirt junior is a part-time starter who averages 8.2 points and 8.4 rebounds this season.
After the Mountaineers lost to Notre Dame in a semifinal of the Big East tournament March 5, they’ll try to rebound in the NCAA tournament this week.
“I definitely think we’ll be able to bounce back,” Dunning said. “After that loss we decided to immediately get ready for the NCAA tournament.
“Coming out of high school, you don’t always make the best decisions and LSU just wasn’t the school for me, but coming to West Virginia has been one of my better experiences. I’ve found a new family here.”
•FLYING INTO THE POSTSEASON — Central Ohioans also have helped the Dayton men’s and women’s teams advance to the postseason.
The Flyers women’s team is making its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance after beating St. Bonaventure 56-53 in the Atlantic 10 championship game March 5. Junior Samantha MacKay, a 2009 Dublin Coffman graduate, had five points and one assist in 11 minutes. MacKay averages 5.1 points this season.
“There were a lot of upsets, so we were on the bubble,” MacKay said. “Being in the game near the end (of the St. Bonaventure game) was an awesome feeling. (Coach Jim Jabir) puts me in on offense and takes me out on defense.”
Senior Chris Johnson, a 2008 Brook-haven graduate, has led the men’s team to the NIT. The Flyers played Iowa in a first-round game March 13. The winner meets Oregon or LSU in a second-round game at a date to be determined.
Johnson was averaging 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds and shooting 85.5 percent from the free-throw line.
Before the Iowa game, Johnson was 23rd all-time in scoring for the Flyers (1,445 points), 12th in rebounding (828), fifth in 3-pointers (234) and fourth in offensive rebounds (305).
“I thought we did a great job this year, especially for having a new coach and only having eight scholarship players,” Johnson said. “I’ve enjoyed my four years here.”
•WEST-COAST SUCCESS — The Fresno State women’s team beat Louisiana Tech 89-61 on March 10 in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Contributing to the Bulldogs’ effort has been 2008 Pickerington Central graduate Veronica Wilson, who is in her second season with the program after spending one season at Boston College.
Wilson is averaging 7.2 points for a Bulldogs team that is 28-5 and making its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.