Pickerington High School Central boys basketball coach Jerry Francis has done plenty of teaching and motivating in his two seasons, enough that his team finds itself on the cusp of its first state tournament appearance.
But Francis doesn’t have to tell senior guard Caris LeVert much. Asked what he says to LeVert, an Ohio University signee, Francis said with a laugh, “See ball, go get ball, shoot ball.”
Francis might not have had to even say that in a Division I regional semifinal March 15, as LeVert scored a game-high 28 points, including 16 of 18 points for the Tigers during one stretch of the second half, to propel Central to a 60-58 victory over Olentangy Liberty at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
“I just feel it’s my job as a senior captain to take over the game when it’s that time and that situation,” LeVert said. “That’s what I tried to do.”
Jae’Sean Tate had 12 points and Javon Bess added 10 for Central, which improved to 23-2 and advanced to play Canton McKinley (18-7) in a regional final at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at the Fairgrounds.
The regional champion will play Fairfield or Middletown in a state semifinal at 8:30 p.m. March 23 at Ohio State.
Central built a 31-21 lead by halftime, then had to withstand several second-half runs by Liberty, which was making its first regional appearance. The Patriots got within four points five times and trailed 44-42 with 7 minutes, 2 seconds left before LeVert — who scored nine consecutive points late in the third quarter — hit a 10-foot jump shot, a running layup and a 3-pointer to make it 51-42 with 4:16 to play.
Nick Archer had 19 points to lead Liberty, which finished 21-3. A.J. Motika had 15 points and Alex Charbonneau scored 10 for the Patriots, who outrebounded the Tigers 28-24 and shot 19-for-43 (44 percent) from the field to Central’s 20-for-42 (48 percent).
Taco Charlton added seven rebounds for the Tigers.
“We got down 10 and we felt our game plan was good, but it was tough accounting for Caris tonight,” Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. “He was our key and he scored 28. We should have double-teamed him a little bit more, but he did a nice job of distributing the ball when we did double him.”