Boys Basketball: Westerville Central, Liberty, Gahanna, Bradley, DeSales, Watterson win district

ThisWeek Sports Staff

Division I

Westerville Central 41, Pickerington North 39 

In a game of second-half runs, Central rallied in the final 3 minutes, 20 seconds and edged visiting North on Landon Tillman’s 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining. 

The Warhawks won their second consecutive district title. 

“It’s like a dream, it happened, it’s crazy,” Tillman said of his game-winning shot. “I’ve never made a shot like that.” 

Westerville Central's Landon Tillman is lifted up by Central students after the Warhawks defeated Pickerington North 41-39 on Tillman's 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining in a Division I district final March 6 at Central.

Second-seeded Central improved to 20-2, with the wins total being a program record. Seventh-seeded North finished 13-6. 

The Warhawks will play Hilliard Bradley in a regional semifinal March 11 at Ohio Dominican. 

“Nothing ever goes as planned,” Central coach Kevin Martin said. “They’re always a grind. You just have to stay engaged on both ends through adversity and it’s hard to do sometimes, even as a coach, but our players did that.” 

Trailing 23-16 early in the second half, North went on a 15-0 run and led 31-25 after three quarters. 

North maintained the lead midway through the final quarter before the Warhawks staged their game-winning comeback. 

Trailing 37-28 with 3:20 left, Central outscored North 13-2 to pull out the win. 

Tillman’s 3-pointer from the top of the key pulled Central to within 37-34, with Tasos Cook’s basket later giving the Warhawks a 38-37 lead.  

Casey George’s drive to the basket with 36 seconds left gave North its final lead at 39-38, setting up Tillman’s game-winning shot. 

Cook led the Warhawks with 12 points. Tillman and Quincy Clark added 11 apiece. 

George led North with 15 points. 

“That’s why you play the game,” Panthers coach Jason Bates said. “You get on the good end of those, even in district championship games. Even this year we’ve been on the good end of those. ... You have to play the game all the way through. Congrats to them. That kid hit a huge shot. They deserved to win. They made one more play than we did.” 

Central and North split two OCC-Ohio Division games during the regular season. 

The Warhawks won their first district title last season before the remainder of the postseason was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

—Frank DiRenna

Olentangy Liberty 57, Newark 45 

Liberty didn’t flinch after 13th-seeded Newark made its first six shots and built a 12-4 lead. 

The fifth-seeded and host Patriots closed the first quarter on a 13-4 run, were ahead 26-25 at halftime and seized control by closing the third quarter on a 9-0 run sparked by the play of seniors Andrew Wade and Henry Hinkle. 

The victory over the Wildcats improved Liberty to 20-5 and earned the program its third district championship. Newark finished 16-9. 

“We just started to get it going a little bit,” Hinkle said. “We started getting stops and that fueled our offense. I think our defense helped our offense because we got out in transition a little bit.” 

Wade finished with 17 points, including scoring 11 in the second half, while Hinkle and Ty Foster both scored 11 and Trey Majidzadeh added nine. 

Newark, which beat Liberty 58-56 on Jan. 26, got 17 points from Drew Ballinger. 

The Patriots next will play Gahanna in a regional semifinal March 11 at Ohio Dominican.

“We definitely have our hands full Thursday night,” coach Greg Nossaman said. “At halftime we were up one and it was important to get a score and get it up five or six because they’re a really good team when they get the lead. ... I’d like to see us put everything together.” 

—Jarrod Ulrey 

Gahanna Lincoln 77, Reynoldsburg 41 

After losing in a district final last season despite being the No. 1 seed, Gahanna again was the top seed and came out focused from the get-go against 10th-seeded Reynoldsburg. 

The host Lions scored the game’s first 10 points, led 24-7 by the end of the first quarter and built a 42-16 halftime advantage. 

Gahanna improved to 21-2 and the Raiders finished 13-8. 

“We sat there and watched (Walnut Ridge) celebrate last year (in a district final),” senior forward Maceo Williams said. “It fueled us to play better. Our energy and our bench guys were huge. We feed off of each other’s energy and had a big lead going into the half.” 

Sean Jones had 21 points, Javan Simmons scored 16 and Williams added 15 for the Lions. 

Eljae Deas scored all of his eight points during the opening quarter for the Lions, who won their fifth district title under coach Tony Staib.  

“Our players were really focused,” Staib said.  

Reynoldsburg, which also lost in a district final last season, got nine points from Josiah Mobley. 

The Lions also beat the Raiders 64-50 on Feb. 2. 

“I thought we did a good job the first three or four possessions keeping the ball out of (Williams’ and Simmons’) hands and kicking it to guys on the perimeter, but they got offensive rebounds,” Reynoldsburg coach Andy Moore said. 

—Jarrod Ulrey 

Hilliard Bradley 44, Pickerington Central 37

Third-seeded Bradley held off sixth-seeded Central in a game the host Jaguars led 14-2.

Bradley improved to 18-4 and Central finished 15-5.

The Tigers took a 26-24 lead on a basket by Zakai Alexander with 2:52 left in the third quarter. However, the Jaguars answered with an 11-2 run capped by a 3-pointer by A.J. Mirgon with 7:44 left in the fourth for a 35-28 lead.

“Obviously we got off to a good start, but we withstood their surges and we had answers,” Bradley coach Brett Norris said. “When you’re giving away that much physically, persistence is important.”

Garner Wallace hit a 3 with 6:15 left to pull the Tigers to 35-31, but they would get no closer.

“There was that (Bradley) run at the end of the third quarter, that was the difference,” Central coach Eric Krueger said. “We got off to a rough start but we were able to turn things around, losing to a really good team on their home court.”

Cade Norris and Keaton Norris led Bradley with 13 points each. Mirgon had 10 and Peyton Murphy scored eight.

Devin Royal and Wallace both had nine points for Central, and Josh Harlan added eight.

—Scott Hennen

Division II

DeSales 42, Jonathan Alder 38

Obed Achirem’s layup with 59.8 seconds left proved to be the game-winning basket as the second-seeded Stallions edged the host, top-seeded and previously undefeated Pioneers in a district final for the second consecutive season.

Desmond Watson, who scored a game-high 20 points, made two free throws with 25.5 seconds left to cap a back-and-forth fourth quarter in which the lead changed hands five times and there were three ties.

The Pioneers’ Jackson Izzard converted a three-point play to give JonathanAlder a 36-35 lead with 1:34 left before Achirem’s basket.

“I just trusted the process and kept going, pump faking and then seeing the results. The ball fell in. it was a big (shot),” said Achirem, who finished with nine points. “We’ve been locked in for a while and we’ve seen the results. We knew this game was going to be a hard one. I’m just glad we found a way.”

DeSales improved to 16-7 and will play Chillicothe Unioto in a regional semifinal March 11 at Chillicothe Southeastern.

Jonathan Alder, which finished 20-1, was seeking its first district title since 1979. Izzard led the Pioneers with 12 points.

—Dave Purpura

Watterson 44, Heath 35 

Despite entering the postseason eight games under .500 and as the 13th seed, Watterson captured its ninth district championship, including the eighth under coach Vince Lombardo, with its win at fourth-seeded Heath. 

The Eagles, who are 11-15, will play Cincinnati McNicholas in a regional semifinal March 11 at Vandalia Butler. 

“Defense has been our calling card, especially of late,” Lombardo said. “We got a lot of great shots down the stretch and hit foul shots.” 

Watterson trailed 18-15 at halftime and 25-20 midway through the third quarter before scoring the final five points of the period. 

In the fourth, Cole Rhett completed a three-point play with 5:03 remaining to give the Eagles a 32-28 lead. 

The Bulldogs got as close as 38-35 on a 3-pointer by Keylan Williams before Watterson scored the final six points. 

Sam Intihar hit all six of his free throws during the fourth quarter and finished 10-for-11 from the foul line while leading the Eagles with 14 points. 

Noah Grayem and Jake Hoying both scored nine for Watterson. 

“Everybody was out there working on (defense),” Intihar said. “No one’s guarding me (when I’m on the free-throw line) and I can just stroke it. I started shooting it pretty well from the line my junior year and it’s pretty good now.” 

—Jarrod Ulrey 

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