Almost 30 minutes after the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team lost to Olentangy Liberty 66-58 in overtime of a Division I regional semifinal March 14 at Ohio Dominican, most Tigers coaches and players still were in their locker room.
Eventually, they filed out, some in tears and almost all looking stunned after their bid at a third consecutive regional championship had come to an end.
A season that included some adversity despite a 25-2 overall record ended with more, as senior guard Jahvon Garcia fouled out with less than a second left in regulation and senior forward Coleton Landis missed almost all of overtime because of an ankle injury.
The Patriots, who had led 47-35 with less than seven minutes left before the Tigers put together a 21-9 run to force overtime, scored the first five points of overtime and never trailed.
"We battled. We didn't hit enough shots (March 14), but we battled," Krueger said. "From a standpoint of effort, I can't complain. We tried to do different things defensively to switch it up and try to keep (the Patriots) off balance, but they shoot the ball extremely well. We came all the way back. If the ball bounces a few different ways, who knows? Going through overtime without Coleton and Jahvon made it tough."
Central got within three points on four occasions in the fourth quarter before senior guard Jaidon Lipscomb hit a wide-open 3-pointer to tie the game at 56 with 8.5 seconds left. Garcia fouled out with .8 of a second remaining, but the Patriots' Henry Hinkle missed both free throws to send the game to overtime.
Mitchell Kershner hit a 3-pointer and Ben Roderick made a layup off the glass to start overtime.
Garcia and sophomore forward Garner Wallace both finished with 20 points.
"That's a good basketball team we beat," Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. "They're a right-handed team. Everything was right side, right side. We tried to slide over and help, but Garcia is so good at getting up in the air and clutching and making good moves. He's going to be a legitimate college player."
Garcia, who averaged 19.6 points and 5.5 rebounds and was named OCC-Ohio Division Player of the Year and first-team all-district, decommitted from Miami University before the season but is drawing interest from several mid-major schools, including Akron, which offered Garcia a scholarship last week.
Landis, a Rio Grande recruit, averaged 11.0 points and 8.5 rebounds and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
In their four seasons, Central won four district championships and had a 91-19 overall record. The Tigers have won seven district titles in the past eight seasons, a run that began with their state championship season of 2012.
Central started this season 12-0 and suffered its only regular-season loss Jan. 18, falling to Pickerington North 65-55 in a game that ultimately allowed the Tigers and Panthers to share the OCC-Ohio championship at 9-1. The Tigers won their next 13 games, setting a program record with 21 regular-season victories in the process, before losing to Liberty.
Senior guards Jay Rodgers and Sam Towns played the first 11 games but missed the rest of the season because of Ohio High School Athletic Association transfer rules. Wallace became part of the starting lineup in mid-January, averaging 10.5 points to earn second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district honors.
Junior guard Tahleik Walker was honorable mention all-league.
Lipscomb will play at Dohn Prep in Cincinnati next season.
Other players eligible to return include junior guard Connor Maciag and sophomore forward Elhadji Thiam.
"It's just disappointing not to win your last game," Krueger said.
"It's a great group that I've enjoyed coaching ... and more than anything, this group made me remember why I love coaching. They care about doing good things.
"There was a lot of adversity. This was a great season. You just want to get all the way and win the whole thing. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way."