Boys Basketball: Varied contributions lift regrouping Pickerington Central Tigers

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Devin Royal (13) and Josh Harlan (3) have been among the key contributors for Central, which got out to a 2-3 start while missing several key players because of injuries.

Considering the injuries his team has endured dating to the preseason, Pickerington Central boys basketball coach Eric Krueger isn’t sure what he’ll see on a game-by-game basis.

In many cases, that has been a positive despite the Tigers’ 2-3 overall record entering a Jan. 15 game at Reynoldsburg.

Central relied on its depth early and often throughout a challenging schedule that included losses to Gahanna (65-51 on Dec. 22), then the fourth-ranked team in Division I, and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (66-53 on Jan. 2), the second-ranked team in Division II at the time. The Tigers saw some of the lessons learned pay off Jan. 8 in a 56-52 win over Lancaster, which was ranked 10th in Division I and was 7-1 entering the game, and hoped that trend continues as they enter the final month of the regular season.

“A lot of guys have had huge games,” Krueger said. “The guys are just trying to stay at it and focusing how to battle and learn from each and every game. I thought we’d have a lot of different guys stepping up. I’m proud of them for sticking together and continuing to fight.”

Tigers coach Eric Krueger has been impressed with how his team has overcome injuries. “I’m proud of them for sticking together and continuing to fight,” he said.

With senior guard/forward Garner Wallace sidelined because of an injury earlier this month and classmates Deshon Evans and Elhadji Thiam continuing to recover from a torn meniscus and torn labrum, respectively, the role of primary scorer has shifted.

Forward Devin Royal averaged a team-leading 15.6 points through five games, including game-high outings of 26 against Lancaster and 24 against St. Vincent-St. Mary. Forward Zakai Alexander, point guard Josh Harlan and guard Gavin Headings, a move-in from Dublin Coffman, each led the Tigers in scoring once before Jan. 15.

Headings had 19 points Jan. 5 in a 65-56 loss at Centerville, which was ranked just outside the top 10 in Division I at the time.

“That’s what I really like about this team. If someone is cold, someone else is going to step right in,” said Harlan, who averaged 10.0 points through five games. “It makes my job a lot easier. If I go down, someone will step in and help me. We have a lot of depth on this team and anybody can step up and chip in points whenever we need.”

Royal, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, emphasized the team’s play over his individual contributions.

“I’m pretty tall and pretty big so rebounding definitely has been a strength for me. If I miss a shot, I can power back in and get myself another chance,” Royal said. “We all have talents. We’re all talented. We can do a lot of things. We’re learning to be more aggressive and never take any game, any chance for granted.”

Central was 2-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division before playing Reynoldsburg.

“Part of the process is learning how to win,” Krueger said. “You really have to stick to it, keep working and keep battling. That has carried over from a couple of those early games (against) teams that might end up going to state. … We know who we’re playing and we learned how to win, learning right and wrong as far as what will work for us and where we can get better.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave