For one half, the Dublin Jerome High School boys basketball team stood toe-to-toe with fourth-seeded Pickerington Central.

For one half, the Dublin Jerome High School boys basketball team stood toe-to-toe with fourth-seeded Pickerington Central.

Trailing by only five points at halftime, the Celtics couldn't keep pace with the Tigers in the final two quarters, however, and lost 66-35 in the opening round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 23 at Jonathan Alder.

The Celtics, who finished 4-17, trailed 13-5 after one quarter but limited the Tigers in the second and trailed 19-14 at halftime.

"We came out and competed with a very good team," said coach Dave Hale, who completed his second season leading the program. "We handled their pressure and changed things up on them defensively."

Central, which improved to 19-2 and advanced to play Groveport in the second round Feb. 29, also beat Jerome 78-62 on Dec. 13.

Central hit 3-pointers on four consecutive possessions early in the third quarter and turned up the defensive pressure. The Tigers led 33-25 with 3 minutes, 38 seconds left in the third quarter, but forced eight turnovers and held Jerome scoreless over the next 6:52. Junior post player Austin Sherman broke the drought for the Celtics with a short jumper with 4:44 remaining, but Jerome was trailing 56-25 when he scored.

"We couldn't make our shots in the third and then they would force turnovers that went for dunks or layups," Hale said.

Senior forward Nick Neale led the Celtics with 10 points. Senior guard Cam Wilson and junior post player Kyle Christman added nine and eight points, respectively.

"I told the guys in the locker room that I was glad to have been able to coach them for two years and that I wished that I had two more years with them," Hale said. "They picked up our system and learned as much as they could."

Jerome went 2-12 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to finish seventh, behind Olentangy Liberty (12-2), Westerville North (11-3), Westerville South (11-3), Westerville Central (7-7), Dublin Scioto (6-8) and Olentangy (6-8) and ahead of Marysville (1-13).

Neale averaged a team-high 12.3 points and 4.4 rebounds and was special mention all-league. Wilson averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 5.1 rebounds and made special mention all-league and his brother, junior forward Donavan Wilson, averaged 7.9 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Christman averaged 6.5 points and 3.1 rebounds and Sherman averaged 3.7 rebounds.

The Celtics had four seniors, including Neale and Cam Wilson.

In addition to Christman, Sherman and Donavan Wilson, expected to return are juniors Danny Callahan (guard), Matt Holden (guard) and John Laufersweiller (guard) and sophomores Nate Axelrod (guard) and Connor Kerns (guard).

"We played two teams twice when they were No. 4 in the state," Hale said. "Liberty and Pickerington Central have both been fourth in the state or better at times this season. We played Central well the first time we played and then played them well in the first half (Feb. 23). Then we lost to Liberty by three points (46-43 on Jan. 24) the second time we played them. Not many teams can say they played four games against top-five teams.

"We learned a lot this season and we have the underclassman who can work to take us to the next level."