It took 12 days to remedy the ills that plagued the Bexley boys basketball team for much of the season.
The 18th-seeded Lions played their “best game of the season” while edging ninth-seeded and host Watterson 42-38 on Feb. 26 in the first round of the Division II district tournament.
Bexley had 12 days off after concluding the regular season with a 51-45 loss to Wellington on Feb. 14.
The Lions’ newfound success continued Feb. 29, when they improved to 7-17 by winning at 17th-seeded Lakewood 54-50 in the second round.
“(The Watterson win) was our best game of the season, especially in the first half,” coach Todd Phillips said. “We had 10 days or so and we used that time well. We did two (days of practice), one (day) off and then another two (practice days), one (day) off during that time.
“We guarded really well in the first half, maybe as well as we had all year. We knew we had to guard their back-door action. We really executed well and we rebounded well, which is something we have not been able to do all year. We were only giving them one shot much of the time.”
Bexley led 7-0 and never trailed, although Watterson’s Mike Bruzzese tied the game at 38 with 40 seconds to play. The Lions held the ball for the last shot and Damian Davis hit an 18-footer near the top of the key at the buzzer.
However, the officials put 0.5 of a second back on the clock. The Eagles inbounded under their own basket and threw the ball the length of the court out of bounds, giving the ball back to Bexley under Watterson’s basket. The Lions’ Tucker Harpe was fouled before time expired and made both free throws to give Bexley its four-point victory.
“(The go-ahead shot) wasn’t planned because it came off a breakdown of a play,” said Davis, who scored 20 points with four 3-pointers. “The clock was winding down and I had to take a shot. As soon as it left my hands I knew it was going in.”
Harpe made all four of his free throws in the fourth quarter.
“I try not to overthink things and screw my shot up,” he said.
Davis scored 14 points in the first half as Bexley built a 22-13 lead. He credited the hard work of the j.v. players in practice for helping to make the varsity team better.
“I feel like it’s a big part of what we do in practice,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who didn’t get to touch the court much (against Watterson) who are a big part in practice. We did a lot of film breakdown on (the Eagles) and (our players) executed their plays really well so we would know what to expect.”
Phillips was impressed with the way his players didn’t crack under pressure.
“In the huddle there was no panic and they kept communicating in the huddle,” he said. “A lot of times when things aren’t going right you can play not to lose, but we came out and played to win.”
Against Lakewood, Chris Mitchell led the Lions with 19 points and Davis added 18. Bexley played top-seeded Jonathan Alder in a district semifinal March 4, and the winner plays second-seeded Heath or third-seeded DeSales in a district final Saturday, March 7, at Ohio Dominican.
The regional semifinal is March 12 at Ohio University.
Phillips said his players battled through a difficult regular season but never stopped working to improve.
“It’s hard to lose,” he said. “We know that we’re the underdog on paper coming in most nights and to have these guys who haven’t done it before continue to come in and fight and work is one thing. I do think that when you lose your confidence does take a hit.
“Whether it’s Cade (Phillips) or Bryan (Williams) or Chris Mitchell, they have all shown flashes of doing really good things and then the next day they will regress a little bit. You know, that’s part of growth.”