Members of the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team admit there were times during the regular season when they would catch themselves looking at each other and wondering who would take charge on the rare occasions in which they trailed or were in a tight game.
The Tigers are having no such issues at this stage, however, and because of that they have made program history.
Jae’Sean Tate scored a game-high 15 points, with the last two coming on a dunk with 51 seconds left, and Caris LeVert added 14 points to lead Central to a 60-51 win over Canton McKinley 60-51 in a Division I regional final on March 17 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum to clinch its first state tournament appearance .
The Tigers improved to 24-2 and advanced to play Fairfield in a state semifinal at 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 23, at Ohio State.
“It was a fight,” said Tate, a 6-foot-4 sophomore forward. “I’ve got bruises all over the place, but it was well worth it. They were like a (Columbus) City League team and we had to battle it out with them.”
Connor Kern added 11 points, including nine of his team’s first 12 on three 3-pointers, and Taco Charlton scored 10 for the Tigers.
Central stormed to a 12-2 lead in the first 3:24 and never trailed. LeVert, who had 28 points in a 60-58 regional semifinal win over Olentangy Liberty on March 15, didn’t score until the 6:14 mark of the third quarter, but the Tigers led 33-24 at halftime.
McKinley, which finished 18-8, held Central scoreless for 5:35 in the third quarter and pulled within 39-38, but LeVert’s three-point play with 2.5 seconds left in the quarter broke the drought and made it 42-38.
McKinley got within one point again at 50-49 with 2:58 to play, but Central closed the game on a 10-2 run.
“It means a lot for our program,” Tigers coach Jerry Francis said of the regional championship. “We’ve come a long way in a short time, but we can’t rest on our laurels.”
Devaughntah Williams led McKinley with 16 points.
“We never did quite get over the hump,” McKinley coach Keith Noftz said. “We played with a great effort, but we were never able to make critical plays at the right time.”