Dane Kopp of the Newark High School boys basketball player team had the upper hand in his individual matchup with Grove City's Jon Smith when the OCC-Ohio Division's top teams played the first time.

Dane Kopp of the Newark High School boys basketball player team had the upper hand in his individual matchup with Grove City's Jon Smith when the OCC-Ohio Division's top teams played the first time.

"Jon and I are good friends," said Kopp, a 6-foot-9 senior center who had 12 rebounds and a season-high 18 points during the Wildcats' 56-51 road victory Dec. 23. "He was shocked with me that first time because of the numbers I put up. (He) said I've really been working on my game."

The Greyhounds play Tuesday at Newark as second-round play continues and the outcome will go a long way in determining the league champion. Grove City was 12-1 overall and 8-1 in the OCC-Ohio entering last Friday's game against Lancaster, and had won seven in a row. The Wildcats were 12-2 and 7-1 before playing Groveport, and every other team in the division had at least four league losses entering last Friday.

"Winning the OCC is always a big thing for us," guard Rahlin Watson said after the Wildcats defeated host Reynoldsburg 49-43 last Tuesday. "That's one goal we didn't get last year (despite winning the Division I state championship)."

Kopp's play has been paramount in Newark's bid to win a second league title in three seasons. He was averaging 11.1 points entering last Friday and has been dominant at times at the defensive end. He blanketed 6-2 Reggie Walls last Tuesday in man-to-man coverage and held Reynoldsburg's leading scorer to eight points. Walls, who scored four of those as the Raiders led 16-6 early, was averaging 17.3 points.

Afterward, Kopp said he will play next year at Walsh University in Canton.

"That's a tough assignment for Dane to go out on the perimeter so much and defend a smaller, quicker kid," coach Jeff Quackenbush said. "And we didn't give (Kopp) much time off, either."

Kopp and Taylor Huffman converged mostly on Smith in the first Grove City game as Quackenbush, who prefers man-to-man defense, deployed a zone. Smith, a 6-7 Saint Louis recruit, averages 18.7 points and Ryan Cosgray averages 21.2, but they had only nine each that game.

Still, Quackenbush indicated it isn't a given he'll use the same defensive strategy.

"I'm not sure we'll be able to sit back in a zone again," he said. "We've been playing them every year even before they joined our league (this season) so we know them pretty well and they know us pretty well. When that's the case it comes down to execution of the game plan you've chosen."

Both coaches might adapt those game plans to Newark's larger floor.

"Their floor is 94 feet and our floor is 84 so there is more open space to work with, but I'm not sure size matters all that much," Grove City coach Greg Waits said. "In games like these it's about effort and working hard every play."

Waits would like to see his team play more aggressively, too. The Greyhounds, who average 80.8 points and have thwarted other bids to duplicate Newark's success with a zone defense, were held to a season-low point total in the first game and their next lowest total has been 65. Moreover, they average 26 free-throw attempts but had only seven in the first game. Newark, on the other hand, has won five contests in which it scored 50 or fewer points and averages 48.8 defensively.

"Looking back on that loss, it wasn't so much what Newark did but it was what we didn't do," Waits said. "We didn't attack them. Since then, the one thing we know we've got to do is attack and we're doing that now."

Tuesday's game might not be the last meeting this season between the two teams, either. Most teams likely will avoid entering the same district-tournament bracket as Columbus Northland, which is ranked first in the state poll, and that would leave the other top contenders scrambling to fill spots in the other two. The postseason draw meeting is Feb. 8 at Olentangy Liberty.

Regardless, the friendship between Kopp and Smith will continue.

"Once the game starts we're enemies, but afterward we'll always talk," Kopp said.

Newark's Rahlin Watson shoots over Pickerington Central's Bobby Ellison during their OCC-Ohio game Jan. 6. The Wildcats will play Grove City on Tuesday in the Hoop It Up Game of the Week on ThisWeekNews.com