The Thomas Worthington High School boys basketball team entered the season searching for a new identity after losing four starters to graduation.
It didn't take long for the Cardinals to begin earning a reputation of being a swarming defensive squad after holding their first three opponents to 35 or fewer points while getting out to a strong start.
Thomas, which allowed only 15 second-half points in a 50-32 victory over Worthington Kilbourne on Dec. 14 at home, was 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Central Division before playing Dublin Coffman on Dec. 17.
"We've played well offensively, but we've played especially well defensively," coach Bob Miller said. "Defensively, we can do a little bit of everything, but our man-to-man defense has been our biggest strength. Our defense has been the biggest factor in all three of our wins, especially the Kilbourne game because they played really strong defense, too."
The Cardinals led Kilbourne 18-17 at halftime before outscoring the Wolves 15-6 in the third quarter and 17-9 in the fourth quarter to break the game open.
Center Alex Baughman scored 17 points to lead the Cardinals. Point guard Jaret Gerber scored 13, with guard Nick Veal and forward Yemi Sholesi chipping in eight and seven points, respectively.
Miller said forward Tyrrell Stewart also played a big role against Kilbourne by holding point guard Seth Hill to 13 points. Wing player Connor Silva added nine points for the Wolves.
"Tyrrell is our top defender who always defends our opponents' best guards," Miller said. "We put him on Kilbourne's best player and he did a good job against Hill, who is very athletic and quick. Alex Baughman and Yemi Sholesi both are defending very well in the post. Alex had a huge game both offensively and defensively against Kilbourne. He went to the glass hard and ran the floor with a vengeance. (Guard) Isaiah Boyd is rebounding well and defending well against other guards, too."
The Cardinals defeated Westland 50-35 in their OCC-Central opener Dec. 13, as Gerber scored 14 points, Baughman scored 12 and Sholesi scored 11.
"Westland is very athletic, but we played very well defensively at their place as well," Miller said. "Our point guard (Gerber) is only a sophomore, but he's been our leading scorer and he's played really well overall.
"Kilbourne was our most satisfying win so far because it was a rivalry game in front of a packed house and we won decisively. It was for a good cause, too. We wore Gussstrong T-shirts to honor (Thomas baseball coach and teacher) Stephen Gussler (who has stage 4 colon cancer), and we wore Orange socks to support (Kilbourne sophomore Drew George, who has leukemia)."
Miller said the Cardinals will need to be ready to play at a quick pace when they face Marysville in a league game Friday, Dec. 20, at home
Thomas swept the Monarchs last season, winning 65-61 at Marysville and 52-49 at home.
"Marysville will be a good challenge because they play good defense," Miller said. "They trap well and they use different types of presses over the full court. They're very athletic and they run the floor well, so we have to be prepared to defend the full court."
Kilbourne coach Tom Souder said he is pleased with his team's play defensively through three games.
The Wolves were 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Capital before playing Big Walnut on Dec. 17.
Kilbourne won league games against Delaware (59-57 on Dec. 6) and Mount Vernon (48-45 on Dec. 13) before losing to Thomas.
"We defended well in our first two games and in the first half of our Thomas game," Souder said. "We had some good things going in the first half against Thomas, but we got away from what we were doing well. We kind of ran into a buzz saw. Thomas defended us very well and we didn't execute well in the second half."
Souder said it was heartwarming to see his coaching staff and players, along with hundreds of the fans from both schools, wearing Orange clothing at Thomas to honor George.
"Drew is a lot more important than winning or losing a sporting event and it was nice to see the entire community pitching in for him," Souder said. "His favorite basketball player is LeBron James and LeBron even sent him a card for his (16th) birthday (on Dec. 12)."
Hill had a team-high 11 points against Mount Vernon, with Carson Van Lynn and Silva scoring nine and seven, respectively.
"We're doing some good things offensively. We just need to be more consistent," Souder said. "We have to have a little more patience. We don't want to always take the first shot. We need to take the best shot."
The Wolves have a league game Friday, Dec. 20, at Franklin Heights before traveling to Dublin Scioto on Saturday, Dec. 21.
Last season, Kilbourne beat Franklin Heights 45-39 but lost to Scioto 60-42.
"Franklin Heights is very athletic, so we need to defend well," Souder said. "Dublin Scioto is a great rival of ours and our kids grew up with their kids and always enjoy playing them."