Boys Basketball: Westerville Central Warhawks' memorable run ends with loss in state final
In his third season as Westerville Central boys basketball coach, Kevin Martin fulfilled a main goal for his program by guiding the Warhawks to their first Division I state tournament.
The goal of a state championship, however, will have to wait. In a postseason run that saw Central advance twice on late-game shots, the buzzer-beating attempt missed in a 43-42 loss to Centerville in the state final March 21 at the University of Dayton.
The Warhawks saw their 15-game winning streak end and finished 23-3 overall. They set a program record for wins and all of their losses were by one point.
“This is a really connected group between each other and between the coaching staff and the kids,” Martin said. “They’re upset, but once this kind of passes, they’re going to have so many memories about the type of year we had.”
With his team trailing 43-42, senior guard Landon Tillman’s 3-pointer from the corner bounced off the front of the rim as time expired.
“We got a shot in the corner from Landon Tillman, who had a heck of a night, and this time it didn’t fall,” Martin said. “He’s made one before. That’s the way it bounced tonight, but by no means does that take anything away from what this team has done this year. We finished 23-3 with three one-point losses.”
Tillman connected on four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points. Senior guard Tasos Cook added 14 points.
Tillman made a similar shot with 1.8 seconds left in a 41-39 win over Pickerington North in a district final March 6 at home, and Cook hit a half-court shot at the buzzer in a 45-44 win over Gahanna in a regional final March 13 at Westerville South.
In addition to his clutch shot that won Central its first regional title, Cook was named district and OCC-Ohio Division Player of the Year. He averaged a team-high 19.5 points and 5.3 rebounds, and helped lead the Warhawks to the best season in program history.
“I feel (teammates) definitely look up to us,” Cook said of the seniors. “They’ll definitely want to make this run that we did. All I can say to them is use this as motivation and get the job done next time. Keep pushing forward and make it to this point again.”
The postseason run happened a year after Central won its first district title but then saw the remainder of the season canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Cook reached 1,000 points for his career in a 51-42 win over Cleveland St. Ignatius in a state semifinal March 20 in Dayton. He scored a game-high 20 points, but missed nearly eight minutes of the second half with cramps in both legs.
Senior guard Quincy Clark averaged 11 points and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Tillman averaged 9.0 points and was special mention all-league, and senior guard M.J. Davis averaged 6.5 points and was honorable mention all-league.
“(The seniors) are a special group,” Martin said. “We have eight seniors. Everyone knows about the four that play big minutes, but we have eight seniors that are all connected and they come to work every day.”
Sophomore Donovan Hunter, a 6-foot-7 wing player, was the lone underclassman in the starting lineup for most of the season.
Others eligible to return are juniors Sam Hood (forward), Brad Leonard (forward), Miles Poindexter (forward) and Sagar Shah (guard) and sophomore Baba Bangura (forward).
Central went 8-2 in the OCC-Ohio to finish second behind Gahanna (9-1). The Warhawks dropped consecutive league contests to Gahanna (56-55 on Jan. 20) and North (51-50 on Jan. 22) for their other losses.
•Record: 23-3 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: Quincy Clark, Tasos Cook, M.J. Davis, Will Jados, Mamadi Kaba, Luke Patton, Tyler Sackett and Landon Tillman
•Key returnees: Donovan Hunter and Brad Leonard
•Postseason: Defeated Mount Vernon 65-42; def. Hilliard Davidson 44-39; def. Pickerington North 41-39; def. Hilliard Bradley 56-44; def. Gahanna 45-44; def. Cleveland St. Ignatius 51-42; lost to Centerville 43-42 in Division I state final