The Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team felt at home with the fast pace of the first half in its Division I state semifinal March 23 at Ohio State, thriving in transition to lead by 12 points late in the first half thanks in part to perfect shooting from forward Adrian Nelson.
The slower pace Solon succeeded in implementing with an effective half-court man-to-man defense and a game-changing performance from Mr. Basketball-finalist Sincere Carry ended up stifling the Tigers in an 82-78 loss that ended Central’s surprising run to its second consecutive state tournament.
Nelson, a Detroit Mercy recruit, was 9-for-9 from the floor to start the game but missed his last four attempts and was limited to three shots in the second half, when Carry scored 21 of his 29 points. Nelson finished with 21 points and nine rebounds.
Javohn Garcia added 20 points, seven assists and five rebounds for Central, which finished 18-9 and had an 11-game winning streak snapped.
“I was very efficient in the first half, so they definitely made a game plan of slowing me down,” Nelson said. “I feel like if I would have scored more in the second half, we would have been more productive. As a senior, I had to step up more, but I just didn’t produce in the second half.”
Central led by 12 points on five occasions.
Solon did not take its first lead until 6 minutes, 27 seconds remained in the fourth quarter and trailed only briefly after that.
David Marbury’s 3-pointer with 2:39 left capped a possession on which Solon got three offensive rebounds and won a few 50-50 balls to make it 75-71.
Central never got closer than four points again.
“We just couldn’t get enough stops defensively and they got hot,” Tigers coach Eric Krueger said. “They are the best-shooting team in Ohio. They shoot the lights out. We never felt comfortable at all. I was hoping we could hang in well and get enough stops to win, but we didn’t find enough stops at the end.”
Mike Bekelja added 17 points and Marbury and Trent Johnson each scored 10 for the Comets, who improved to 27-1 and will play Cincinnati Moeller in the state final March 24 at Ohio State.
“It went kind of the way we thought,” Solon coach Anthony DiCesare said. “We knew their size would be an issue and that they’d be able to make some runs. They controlled the first half, but at halftime we reminded our guys that if one or two plays broke our way we could grab the momentum. I love the way we defended in the second half and we made the plays we had to make.”