The Westerville South High School boys basketball team played in a crowded arena at Capital University for its Jan. 22 game against Burlington (N.J.) Life Center Academy in the Play-By-Play Classic.
The game meant little in terms of postseason seeding in the Central District, and it didn't have any bearing on the OCC-Cardinal Division standings.
But there still was a buzz, as a highly touted team from the East Coast came to the Midwest to play one of the best that central Ohio has to offer.
"You want to test yourself against great teams," South coach Ed Calo said. "You want to find out what you need to work on. I think we found out a lot about what we need to work on."
South won 60-55 for its 39th consecutive regular-season victory.
All eyes were on the matchup between Ohio State recruit LaQuinton Ross, a 6-foot-8 forward, and South's Traevon Jackson, a 6-3 guard who's going to Wisconsin. The two guarded each other throughout the game. Jackson was the catalyst for a South defense that held Life Center Academy to 19 points in the first half.
South rendered Ross and Life Center Academy guard John Johnson, a Pittsburgh recruit, ineffective. Ross finished with 16 points and Johnson had 17, but most of those came as Life Center Academy tried to rally from a five-point second quarter.
Jackson scored 10 points in what was a balanced offensive effort for the Wildcats, but his value was on the defensive end.
"It wasn't his offense that made him special, it was his defense," Calo said after the game. "I don't even know how much Ross had. That offense goes through him every play. Traevon did a good job because the pressure was always on him to execute defensively. I don't know how much it took out of him on the offensive end, but I really didn't care. We needed him on defense."
Four players scored in double figures for South led by guards Ben Jones, who had 12 points, and Isaiah Rogers, who had 11. Guard Demarkeo Lyshe also had 10 points.
Rogers set the tone in the second quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers from well behind the line. The second one gave South a 29-19 lead with 2 minutes, 8 seconds left before halftime. For a team whose offense is predicated on up-tempo play and 3-point shooting, Rogers' shot not only gave South a 10-point lead, but proved its style of play worked against a highly touted opponent.
"We go into every game believing that we have a chance to win and we expect to win," Rogers said. "We expected to win that game with the basics of our team: defense, playing hard, intensity, running the floor, collectively playing as a group. We don't go in there thinking that we're trying to stay close or just go out there to compete. We're trying to win. Coach gets us in our mindset and everybody on our team has that mindset."
The Life Center Academy game capped a stretch in which the Wildcats played four games in just over a week. The night before, South beat Westerville Central 73-53. The Wildcats also defeated Fishers (Ind.) Hamilton Southeastern 63-61 in overtime on Jan. 17 in the Flyin' to the Hoop Classic in Kettering, and they beat Olentangy Liberty 68-33 on Jan. 14.
Against Hamilton Southeastern, the Wildcats won despite being missing all 13 of their 3-point attempts. Jackson scored 26 points while holding Southeastern's Gary Harris, who has several Division I college scholarship offers, to four points.
"I think I do well on defense because my team helps me in back," Jackson said. "With our help defense it's hard for guys to score unless three of us break down. We do a good job in the half court."
•The girls team entered its game against Dublin Scioto on Jan. 25 looking to break an eight-game losing streak.
The Wildcats fell to Central 46-40 on Jan. 22. Their last win came Dec. 10, a 36-31 victory over Scioto.
On Friday, Jan. 28, the Wildcats play at Dublin Jerome, the team that started the eight-game skid. Jerome beat the Wildcats 44-42 on Dec. 17 despite 20 points from South guard Morgan Neighbors.
AT A GLANCE
Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Westerville South boys and girls basketball teams:
*Jan. 21 - Def. Westerville Central 73-53. Traevon Jackson scored 19 points and Marcus Ball added 17.
Jan. 22 - Def. Burlington (N.J.) Life Center Academy 60-55 in Play-By-Play Classic.
*Jan. 25 - Played Dublin Scioto
*Jan. 28 - Home vs. Dublin Jerome. The Wildcats won 86-50 on Dec. 17.
*Feb. 4 - At Marysville
Of note: The Wildcats were 13-0 overall and 8-0 in the OCC-Cardinal before Jan. 25.
Jan. 18 - Lost to Olentangy Orange 65-41. Morgan Neighbors scored 17 points and Lindsay Gerhart added seven.
*Jan. 22 - Lost to Central 46-40. Neighbors scored 16 points and Gerhart added eight.
*Jan. 25 - Played Scioto
*Jan. 28 - At Jerome. The Wildcats lost 44-42 on Dec. 17.
Feb. 1 - Home vs. New Albany. The Wildcats lost 53-36 last year.
Of note: The Wildcats were 4-9 overall and 3-6 in the OCC-Cardinal before Jan. 25.