Even though the Thomas Worthington High School boys basketball team was at a size disadvantage in the majority of its first nine games, coach Bob Miller was pleased with how well the Cardinals rebounded the ball.
The Cardinals defeated Grove City Christian 87-22 on Jan. 5 to improve to 7-2 overall and beat Central Crossing 72-47 on Jan. 4 to improve to 3-2 in the OCC-Central Division before playing Hilliard Davidson on Jan. 8.
"We start two guards, Will Hill and Lance Leslie, who are about 5-foot-8, and we've been undersized in most of our games, but we've done a good job rebounding against bigger teams," Miller said. "All of our guys work hard at boxing out and they do a good job of going after the ball once it's been released. That's been a big key to our success this season."
Miller also lauded his team's transition game.
Hill was averaging a team-high 16.4 points through nine games, followed by Leslie (10.2) and Yemi Sholesi (7.2).
"With our style, we want to run the floor, and Will can dribble the ball faster than a lot of players can run," Miller said. "One of our strengths is we have excellent depth at all five positions. We can go two or even three deep and have very little drop-off at most of our positions. When we maintain an up-tempo pace, we're able to tire teams out and that's paid off for us in the third or fourth quarter of most games."
Miller said his team needs to work on staying more consistent offensively, especially when it has a lead.
On Dec. 28, the Cardinals led Briggs 33-24 at halftime and extended their lead to double figures in the second half. But the Bruins rallied to tie the score at 50 in the fourth quarter before Thomas pulled away for a 66-56 victory.
Hill led the Cardinals with 22 points, seven assists and four steals.
On Dec. 29, the Cardinal led Grove City 35-26 at halftime and held on to win 56-54, as the Greyhounds missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"Our consistency offensively needs to be better," Miller said. "We've executed our offense well overall, but we need to be more consistent.
"We've had situations where we play extremely well and build a nice lead in the first half and then our opponent has whittled it away. We've been able to find a way to win those games so far, but we'll need to do a better job of avoiding letting leads slip away in the future."
The Cardinals play host to Olentangy Liberty in a key OCC-Central game on Friday, Jan. 11. The Patriots were 9-1 overall and 4-1 in the league before playing Dublin Coffman on Jan. 8.
"Olentangy Liberty looks to be one of the best teams in our league and this is an important game for us because we've already got two league losses," Miller said. "To have a shot at winning our league, we obviously need to continue to win, and this is really important since Liberty has only one loss in our league. There are five teams that appear to be capable of winning our league right now, including Upper Arlington, Dublin Coffman, Westland, Olentangy Liberty and ourselves, and we need to keep pace with the rest of those teams."
Souder pleased with play in tourney
Although Kilbourne went 1-2 in the Gateway Holiday Classic held Dec. 27-29 at Mount Sterling (Ky.) Montgomery County, coach Tom Souder was happy with the way his team competed in the event.
"You always wish you could have won more games, but we played well against three quality teams and it was a good experience for us," Souder said. "It was a very well-run tournament, and the people there were fabulous to us. I think we learned a lot about our team and will improve because of it."
The Wolves opened the event with a 60-58 overtime victory over Covington (Ky.) Holy Cross on Dec. 27, as Tyler Stern-Tucker had 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, Seth Hill had 14 points and 11 assists and Ryan Adolph made five 3-pointers and finished with 19 points.
Late in overtime, Hill stole the ball near midcourt, was fouled and made a free throw to put Kilbourne ahead 60-58 with 4.5 seconds left. Stern-Tucker preserved the win by blocking a 3-point shot as the buzzer sounded.
The Wolves then lost to both Montgomery County (76-59 on Dec. 28) and Lexington (Ky.) Lafayette (75-64 on Dec. 29) before returning home to beat Dublin Jerome 57-41 in an OCC-Cardinal game Jan. 4.
"All three of (our opponents in the Gateway Holiday Classic) were quality teams and we had stretches where we played well in all three games," Souder said. "We fell behind 9-0 against Holy Cross and, from that point on, we played our best game of the season. In the other two games, we had some offensive lapses that hurt us.
"When you play three games in three days, you need to get some quality minutes off your bench, and that's what we got from Grant Hartman, Connor Silva and Hayden Shenefield. Griffin Dahn played well, too."
The Wolves, who lost 76-46 to Westerville North on Jan. 7, face another test when they play host to Dublin Scioto in an OCC-Cardinal game Friday, Jan. 11. The Irish were 9-1 overall and 4-1 in the league before playing Hilliard Bradley on Jan. 8.
"Dublin Scioto's playing really well right now," Souder said. "We have to defend a little better and make other teams defend harder against us. We need to work to get the shots we want instead of taking what our opponents give us."