Cougars fall to Liberty in district semi
Knowing that his team's season was ending, Westland High School boys basketball coach Todd Parker made sure to recognize his seniors one last time.
Parker replaced seniors starters Cory Beesler, KyJuan Grace, Kersey Long and J.J. Smith with 54 seconds remaining in a 60-43 loss to OCC-Central Division-rival Olentangy Liberty in a Division I district semifinal March 6 at Marysville.
The Cougars' fifth starter, senior forward/guard Jalen Brown, had fouled out earlier in the fourth quarter.
"It was a tribute," Parker said. "I wanted the crowd to give them one last clap. It wasn't the biggest student section since we didn't have school (because of bad weather), but I wanted to give them a chance to get one last tribute. They deserve it. They had a great season and they're a great group of boys."
The 11th-seeded Cougars finished 18-7 overall. They had beaten 27th-seeded Briggs 67-59 in the first round of the tournament Feb. 23 and 24th-seeded Westerville Central 77-62 in the second round Feb. 27. Both of those contests were home games.
Third-seeded Liberty improved to 23-1 and advanced to play top-seeded Northland in a district final March 9 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. The Patriots lost to host Westland 70-62 on Dec. 21 but defeated the Cougars 58-44 on Feb. 1 at Liberty.
"We're very proud of what we've done," Parker said. "Eighteen wins is nothing to shake a stick at. Liberty is a good team and there's a reason why they only have one loss and we're proud to be (the opponent behind) that one loss."
Liberty led 14-6 after the first quarter of the postseason matchup and extended its lead to 28-15 by halftime. The Patriots led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter and the Cougars would get no closer than 10 points in the second half.
Long, a point guard, had a team-high 18 points as Westland was just 17-for-60 from the field (28 percent). The Cougars missed all 13 of their 3-point shot attempts.
"According to my stats, we had about 18 trips where we came up empty and it wasn't all turnovers," Parker said. "We were missing shots at the basket and open 3s."
Guard Matt Muntean had 20 points to lead Liberty and forward Michael DeLeon scored 12.
Westland went 9-5 in the OCC-Central to finish third, behind Liberty (13-1) and Dublin Coffman (12-2) and ahead of Thomas Worthington (8-6), Upper Arlington (8-6), Marysville (4-10), Hilliard Davidson (2-12) and Central Crossing (0-14).
Long averaged a team-high 17.6 points and was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
"This is the best season probably all of us have ever had and I'm just glad to have played with players that I did," he said.
Smith, a guard/forward, averaged 14.2 points and a team-high 11.6 rebounds and was first-team all-league and third-team all-district. This season, he set the program records for rebounds in a career (709), season (289) and game (22, in a 79-47 win over Delaware on Jan. 22).
"We had a great season," Smith said. "We did good. We played as a team."
Grace, a guard, averaged 10.1 points and was special mention all-league and Beesler, a guard, averaged nine and was honorable mention all-league.
Westland loses nine seniors, including forward Devan Williamson, who was averaging 11.1 points and 4.9 rebounds before, according to Parker, being ruled academically ineligible in late January.
"I told the seniors what I enjoyed most about coaching them was not the fact that they're a good basketball team, but that they're fine young men," Parker said.
Expected to return are juniors Myles Fowler (guard) and Toury Freeman (forward).