Pickerington High School Central boys basketball coach Jerry Francis compared a four-way tie for the OCC-Ohio Division championship to experiences from his childhood that probably were more character-building than pleasant.
"It's like doing the dishes and cutting the grass," Francis said after the Tigers lost to Gahanna 72-62 in their regular-season finale Feb. 15 to finish 10-4 in the OCC-Ohio, forcing Central to share the league title with Grove City, Newark and Reynoldsburg. "It's a tough chore my mom made me do, and this is a tough pill to swallow. We just have to take this bitter pill and try to get it turned around quick."
The Tigers, who are 15-7 overall entering their Division I district tournament opener against Delaware at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at home, lost three of their final four OCC-Ohio games. Gahanna finished fifth in the league at 9-5, followed by Pickerington North (4-10), Groveport (2-12) and Lancaster (1-13).
Central led Gahanna 26-25 at halftime, but the Lions went on a 17-5 run in the second half to take the lead for good. Junior forward Jae'Sean Tate had a game-high 32 points to surpass the 1,000-point plateau for his career with the Tigers, but he was hounded consistently by Gahanna's Aaron Jackson and Javon Bess, the latter of whom helped Central win the state championship last season.
Freshman forward Jalen Tate and freshman guard D.J. Tyree fouled out in the final minutes.
"Bodies just got tired. A lot of our starters got in foul trouble," Jae'Sean Tate said. "We came out ready in the first half, and that second half, I don't know, we fell a little short.
"They're a great team, an athletic team. Out of all the games this year, that was by far the most I've been pressured."
Tate, an Ohio State recruit, has 1,005 career points, 215 shy of program record-holder Rush Floyd, who scored a program-record 586 points as a senior in the 1989-90 season before going on to play at Ohio University.
Central is seeded 10th in the district and has spent this week preparing for 14th-seeded Delaware. The teams haven't played since Dec. 28, 2011, when the Pacers gave the Tigers one of their biggest scares in what turned to be a 14-0 start before 2012 graduate Caris LeVert made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Central a 73-70 win.
Delaware, which entered the week 15-5, is led by senior point guard Mike Wells, who was averaging 20.1 points and 5.5 assists through 18 games. Sophomore guard Khalil Iverson was averaging 13.2 points and 10.1 rebounds and 6-foot-8 senior forward Griffin Kinney was averaging 10 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Tate is averaging 20.8 points to lead Central, followed by junior guard Connor Kern (15.0) and senior forward Darryl LeVert (6.7).
"We have some tape (of Delaware) from last year," Francis said. "We know what they do. Wells is a great player and we have to keep him under control and handle the guys accordingly."
The Central-Delaware winner will play at fifth-seeded Dublin Scioto in the second round at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27. Scioto, which has a first-round bye, is 18-4 and enters the postseason having won four of its final five regular-season games. The Irish are led by guards Josh Ashwill and Antonio Bisutti and forward Travis Wehder.
The second-round winner will play seventh-seeded Dublin Coffman, Dublin Jerome, Grove City or Hilliard Davidson in a district semifinal March 6 at Pickerington North.
Panthers preparing for Walnut Ridge
North is seeded 25th in the Division I district tournament and opens at 20th-seeded Walnut Ridge at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23.
North, which closed the regular season with a 41-32 loss at Grove City on Feb. 15 to fall to 10-12 overall, has not played Walnut Ridge since losing to the Scots 50-38 on Dec. 27, 2011. Now-senior forward DeVon Price had a team-high 12 points against the Scots.
"We didn't really want to play any of our league teams again or the higher seeds (in the first round), so that was the spot we chose and hopefully we'll get our kids prepared and play well," coach Pete Liptrap said.
Liptrap said he got help preparing for Walnut Ridge from OCC-Ohio-foe Newark, which lost to the Scots 47-45 on Jan. 26. Liptrap saw the Scots in a game last month while scouting Eastmoor Academy.
Walnut Ridge, which is 12-8 overall, hasn't played since Feb. 8, when it defeated Marion-Franklin 66-39 in its regular-season finale. The Scots, who went 8-6 in the City League-South Division, are led by 6-2 junior forward Dymiere Finch, 5-9 senior guard Ty Pack and 6-4 senior forward Darius Strickland.
The North-Walnut Ridge winner will face 12th-seeded Westerville South or 31st-seeded Groveport in the second round at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the home of the higher seed. The Panthers split their two OCC-Ohio contests with Groveport, losing 62-47 on Jan. 4 and winning 54-36 on Feb. 5, but did not play South during the regular season.
South and Groveport entered the week 14-7 and 6-15, respectively. The Wildcats are led by 6-3 senior guard/forward Marcus Ball, 6-4 senior forward Trent Slade and senior guard Jalen Bell. The Cruisers are led junior guard C.J. Crowder, freshman point guard Ty Ferguson and sophomore guard Tyrone Cherry.
The second-round winner will play top-seeded Northland, Central Crossing or Hilliard Bradley in a district semifinal March 6 at Marysville.