The Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team erased an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Hilliard Bradley 43-39 in a Division I regional final March 17 at Ohio Dominican and earn its second consecutive trip to the state tournament.
The Tigers improved to 18-8 and will play top-ranked Solon (26-1) in a state semifinal at 8:30 p.m. March 23 at Ohio State.
The 10th-ranked Jaguars, who had beaten Central 54-33 in the Jared Sullinger Ohio Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic on Jan. 27 at Ohio Dominican, finished 25-2.
“We had to keep fighting, keep battling and keep playing hard even when we were down eight,” said Central coach Eric Krueger, whose team has won 11 consecutive games. “(The Jaguars) are disciplined offensively and play great defense. We tried everything and anything to slow them down.”
Braden Norris made a 10-foot jumper in the paint to give Bradley a 37-32 lead with 3 minutes, 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but the Tigers scored the next nine points to open a 41-37 lead with 1:06 remaining.
The Jaguars then had a 37-second possession in which they took four shots before Central’s Adrian Nelson forced a turnover by tipping the ball away from Norris. The ball hit off of Norris’ foot and went out bounds with 28.7 seconds left, giving the ball to the Tigers.
“That felt like it was a five-minute possession,” Krueger said. “They had (four) shots and we couldn’t get a rebound, but we were able to do what we needed.”
After Central’s Javohn Garcia missed a free throw, Norris passed inside to Jacob Pugh for a layup to cut the Jaguars’ deficit to 41-39 with 10.7 seconds left. However, Nelson sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 8.5 seconds remaining.
“We didn’t shoot like we normally do, and you have to give them credit for that,” said Bradley coach Brett Norris, whose team had a 19-game winning streak snapped. “We were missing shots and they got the long rebounds, helping them get points in transition, and that was the story of the game.”
Isaiah Speelman led Bradley with 17 points, including a 3-pointer to end the third quarter that gave the Jaguars a 29-24 lead. Central’s Jaidon Lipscomb hit two 3s and 6-foot-7 center Coleton Landis banked in a 3 from the top of the key to give the Tigers momentum and tie the game at 37 with 3:05 left.
“They hit a couple big 3s and they had another bank in,” said coach Norris, whose team was seeking its first regional title. “Offensively, we just missed some golden opportunities.”More video
•Pickerington Central's Jaidon Lipscomb
Bradley went 4-for-15 (28.7 percent) from the field in the fourth quarter and 16-for-39 (41.0 percent) for the game, while Central was 6-for-9 (66.7 percent) from the field in the fourth and 16-for-38 (42.1 percent) for the game.
Landis had 12 points and Garcia scored 11 to lead Central, which will be making its third state tournament appearance. The Tigers lost to Cincinnati Moeller 57-47 in a state semifinal last year after winning the state championship in 2012.