The Upper Arlington High School boys basketball team was less than five seconds away from winning its first state championship since 1937, but had to settle for being the Division I state runner-up after an unlikely shot.
Lakewood St. Edward's Marsalis Hamilton hit only his second 3-pointer of the season with two seconds left in regulation in the state final March 22 at Ohio State to tie the score and force overtime, where the Eagles outscored the Golden Bears 10-6 and won 62-58 to capture their second state championship.
UA, which was making its first state appearance since 1939, led 52-49 when St. Edward called a timeout with 4.7 seconds left to set up a final shot. The Bears opted not to foul inside the 3-point arc before Hamilton took the shot. Had they fouled, at worst they would have led 52-51 in the waning seconds.
"We talked about (fouling), yes," coach Tim Casey said. "We absolutely talked about fouling, but we wanted (Hamilton) to shoot it. We were willing to take a chance with the other guys and he just made the shot."
Hamilton had been just 1-for-8 on 3-pointers this season, but he came through in the clutch to help send St. Edward to its first state title since 1998.
"It was not designed for (Hamilton), but he got the ball in that spot," Eagles coach Eric Flannery said. "Kipper (Nichols, a 6-foot-7 first-team all-state guard) passed it off to him and (Nichols) was the guy who was supposed to shoot it. That goes to show you that a lot of kids might have just heaved the ball up because there were four seconds left. But Kipper made the extra pass, Marsalis got a great look and hit it."
The Bears, who played in front of a mostly pro-UA crowd of 14,234, never led in overtime. St. Edward worked its offense for more than two minutes before taking a 54-52 lead on a layup by Malcolm Walters.
Senior guard Danny Hummer tied the game with two free throws, but the Eagles took control for good on two free throws by Derek Funderburk and a layup by Tony Vuyancih off a steal with 39 seconds left. Senior forward Logan Richter scored on a layup with 7.3 seconds remaining to make it 60-58, but Nichols made two free throws with six seconds left to seal the title for St. Edward, which finished 26-2.
UA, which led 11-10 after the first quarter, 22-20 at halftime and 40-37 after the third quarter, had its 26-game winning streak snapped and finished 27-2 overall.
Hummer and senior guard Kevin Vannatta, who was named first-team all-state, each had 15 points to pace the Bears. Nichols had a game-high 26 points and five rebounds and Hamilton had 11 points for the Eagles.
"With this being the state championship (game), you knew no one was going to back down," said senior guard Wes Davis, whose 3-pointer with 3:21 left in the fourth quarter gave UA a 48-42 lead. "It went back and forth the whole game. That much, we expected."
Hamilton's tying shot came moments after UA had taken a 52-49 lead on a trick inbounds play.
Hummer took the ball from the official and passed it to Vannatta, who had run out of bounds along the baseline to take the pass. Vannatta then threw a half-court pass to Hummer, who sprinted for a layup with 11 seconds left.
UA advanced to the final by knocking off Trotwood-Madison 74-49 in a semifinal March 21 at Ohio State. Vannatta had 25 points and five rebounds to pace the Bears. Richter added 14 points and Hummer had seven points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, as the Bears led by as many as 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Despite finishing one win shy of its ultimate goal, UA set several program benchmarks this season, including a program-record 27 wins. On the heels of winning their fourth OCC-Central Division championship in five years, the Bears captured their first district championship since 2007 and appeared in a regional final for the first time since 1942.
"We really couldn't ask for anything more," said Davis, a third-generation UA player who moved to central Ohio from Texas before this school year. "We live right down the street from (Value City Arena). The entire town is behind us. None of us could have done any of this without everybody on the team. It's a year we'll never forget."
UA lost to Olentangy Liberty 34-31 in its second game of the season before beginning its program-record winning streak. The Bears finished 13-1 in the OCC-Central, ahead of Liberty (11-3), Dublin Coffman (10-4), Thomas Worthington (8-6), Marysville (7-7), Hilliard Davidson (3-11), Westland (3-11) and Central Crossing (1-13).
Seeded third in the district tournament, UA defeated 38th-seeded Pickerington North 75-47 on Feb. 21, 30th-seeded Olentangy 67-53 on Feb. 26, 12th-seeded Grove City 55-45 on March 5 and second-seeded Gahanna 55-49 on March 8 to win a district title.
The Bears then beat Pickerington Central 63-53 in a reg-ional semifinal March 13 and Northland 50-36 in the regional final March 15. Northland was the top seed in the district.
Vannatta, a UNC-Asheville signee, had 26 points and five rebounds against Gahanna, 29 points against Central and 27 points and 19 rebounds against Northland.
He averaged 24.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in the final five games and averaged 17.7 points, six rebounds and 2.3 steals for the season.
Vannatta and Hummer, who averaged 9.3 points, 4.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds, both were named first-team all-league. Vannatta also made first-team all-district and Hummer was honorable mention all-district.
Davis averaged 5.8 points and 2.1 rebounds and was special mention all-league, and junior forward Michael McGovern averaged 4.2 points and 1.9 rebounds and was honorable mention all-league.
McGovern is the only starter eligible to return, but others who got considerable playing time included junior guards Gabe Akins and Griffin Caldwell.
Casey, a 1981 UA graduate, was named league and district Coach of the Year and shared state Coach of the Year honors with Berea-Midpark's Leo Barther and Toledo Bowsher's Joe Guerrero.
The state semifinal win was Casey's 200th at UA. He is 200-97 in 13 seasons at UA and has a career record of 336-213.
"Most of us have known (Casey) since we were 5, 6 or 7 years old," Hummer said. "In a lot of ways, coach has made sure we treated this like any other year. He has pushed us from day one. No way would we have been here without him."