Gahanna Lincoln Roundup: Lions boys basketball team falls one win short of state tourney
Back in the Division I regional tournament for the first time in five years, the Gahanna Lincoln boys basketball team was held to a season-low point total but seized control late in a 47-39 victory over Olentangy Liberty in a semifinal March 11 at Westerville South.
The Lions were again forced into a defensive struggle two days later in a regional final against Westerville Central at South, and a buzzer-beating half-court shot by Tasos Cook gave the Warhawks a 45-44 victory and denied Gahanna its second trip to state.
Despite the loss, which gave the Lions a final record of 22-3, junior guard Sean Jones believes their performance epitomized his team because they were missing two key contributors to a second consecutive season of 20-plus victories.
“I feel like we’re a brotherhood, so we always have that next-man-up mentality,” Jones said. “We just have faith in our guys off the bench who hadn’t played much this year and we trusted them very much. We’re playing for everybody that can’t play for us anymore.”
Jones, a first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division and first-team all-district honoree who averaged 16 points, gave Gahanna a 44-42 lead over Central with 1.9 seconds to go and finished with 15 points.
The Lions beat Central 56-55 on Jan. 20 but lost to the Warhawks 65-64 on Feb. 5, with Gahanna winning the league title at 9-1 and Central finishing second at 8-2. In the final state poll, Gahanna was sixth and the Warhawks were seventh.
Senior wing player Jarius Jones, who averaged 12 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, got hurt during the second matchup with Central and missed the final 10 games.
Also missing from both regional tournament games was senior guard Cam Johnson, who saw his playing time increase after the loss of Jarius Jones but did not play because of illness.
Junior guard Brendan Raymond stepped into a bigger role during the regional and hit a 3-pointer with 3:09 left and added a steal with 51.6 seconds to go in the win over Liberty.
“With people out, I had to step up a little bit and it was a good experience for me,” Raymond said.
Jarius Jones was joined in the senior class by forwards Maceo Williams and Caleb McCleskey.
Williams averaged 12 points and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, while McCleskey was a key contributor during the tournament.
In addition to Sean Jones – who scored his 1,000th career point Feb. 10 in an 80-51 victory over Linden-McKinley and has offers from Cincinnati, Kansas State, VCU and Xavier – forward Javan Simmons (11.0) and guard Eljae Deas (6.5) were key juniors.
Simmons was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and Deas was honorable mention all-league.
Juniors Jessee Battle (guard), Jordan Green (wing player) and Nolan Ward (guard) and sophomores Brandon Ivery (wing player) and Will Scott (guard) are others eligible to return.
“A lot of teams have one big and we have two that have two different skill sets,” said Tony Staib, who was named OCC-Ohio Coach of the Year. “That’s what makes us a pretty good team. We’re a deep team, but with injuries and COVID protocols and all that, we’re not as deep as we were but we survived. We’ve had guys get experience the whole year.”
Williams closes prep
career at state
Senior Charles Williams closed his prep career by qualifying for the Division I state wrestling tournament for the second consecutive season.
After finishing fourth at last year’s district tournament, Williams wasn’t able to compete at state when the event was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Williams made it back to state with a third-place finish at 145 pounds in the district tournament March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby.
On March 13 and 14 in the state tournament at Darby, Williams lost his opening match 7-0 to Medina Highland’s James Scavuzzo, beat Clayton Northmont’s Miles Moyer 13-1 and lost to Brecksville-Broadview Heights’ Kael Voinovich 7-0 in the second round of consolation to finish 28-6 for the season.
“To qualify this year means a lot,” Williams said. “It’s different than last year because I didn’t get as many matches as I did last year during the season. Even in the summer, I didn’t compete in a match and I had a lot of matches over the summer going into my junior season, so qualifying again knowing that really makes it special this year. I think my work in the room was hard and it helped drive me to get there again.”
Williams closed his prep career with a 115-28 record, including winning a sectional title Feb. 27 at Newark.
He lost in a quarterfinal at district but won three matches in the backdraw to advance to state.
Williams was one of three district qualifiers along with senior Ricky Alli (182) and freshman Charlie Foster (126).
At district, Alli went 1-2 to finish 22-8 and Foster went 0-2 to finish 14-15.
The only other seniors to compete in the postseason were Marcus Rogers (160) and Tim Steele (138).
Freshman Jayden Lewis (195) placed sixth at sectional and finished 12-7. Sophomore Griffin Flusche (heavyweight) placed sixth at sectional and finished 14-9.
Junior Chandler Block (152), sophomore Gavin Larrison (120) and freshmen Anthony Judd (113, 13-6) and Javon Lewis (170, 11-7) are others eligible to return.
In the girls postseason, freshman Emily Leeseberg (101) went 2-2 at district Feb. 14 at Olentangy Orange to finish fourth and qualify for state, where she went 0-2 on Feb. 20 at Hilliard Davidson.
“With the season being different this year, it’s been difficult,” Williams said. “We had to shut down practice for a little bit and missed some matches, so it’s been tough, but we’ve been able to push through. We handled it well. We made the most of our opportunities that we got to wrestle because we knew anything could happen and we left it all out there on the mat.”
•Record: 22-3 overall
•OCC-Ohio standings: Gahanna (9-1), Westerville Central (8-2), Pickerington North (7-3), Grove City (4-6), New Albany (2-8), Westland (0-10)
•Seniors lost: Jarius Jones, Caleb McCleskey and Maceo Williams
•Key returnees: Jessee Battle, Eljae Deas, Cam Johnson, Sean Jones, Brendan Raymond and Javan Simmons
•Postseason: Defeated Whetstone 65-19, def. Central Crossing 71-48, def. Northland 67-45, def. Reynoldsburg 77-41, def. Olentangy Liberty 47-39, lost to Westerville Central 45-44 in Division I regional final
•OCC-Ohio standings: Grove City (5-0), Gahanna and Central (both 3-2), New Albany and North (both 2-3), Westland (0-5)
•Seniors lost: Ricky Alli, Quran Burns, Christian Mitchell, Marcus Rogers, Tim Steele and Charles Williams
•Key returnees: Chandler Block, Griffin Flusche, Charlie Foster, Anthony Judd, Gavin Larrison, Emily Leeseberg, Javon Lewis and Jayden Lewis
•Postseason: Ninth (83) at sectional behind champion Dublin Coffman (277), 28th (17) at district behind champion Coffman (228.5), tied for 66th (2) at state behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (184.5)