Basketball: Central Ohio players fired up for March Madness

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Hilliard Bradley graduate Braden Norris helped Loyola Chicago win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship and qualify for the NCAA tournament. He's averaging 8.1 points with a team-best 48 3-pointers.

The need to be flexible has never felt more relevant to Braden Norris than it has over the past year. 

A 2018 Hilliard Bradley graduate, Norris spent one season learning the ins and outs of men’s college basketball at Oakland University before entering the transfer portal in May 2019. 

A little less than two years later, Norris will get to enjoy March Madness firsthand. 

With a 20-point performance March 7 in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, Norris helped Loyola Chicago earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a 75-65 victory over Drake. 

Loyola is 24-4. 

“It’s been great,” Norris said. “This is every team’s goal that they set out at the beginning of the year. You want to make the big dance, get your ticket punched. To be able to win the regular season and the tournament is really special, especially for our group. To send these seniors off, it’s really special.” 

Norris was named to the Horizon League’s all-freshman team for Oakland in 2019 before sitting out last season after transferring. 

He made five 3-pointers in the MVC final and is averaging 8.1 points. He had a team-best 48 3s heading into the NCAA tournament, which begins with the First Four on March 18 and will be held exclusively in Indiana. 

The Ramblers didn’t begin their season until Dec. 5, a few weeks after being quarantined because of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Norris said most of the team came down with the virus. 

“(The season) definitely had its difficulties with COVID,” he said. “It’s a lot different of a year with no fans; the travel’s different; the hotel situation is different. We had our own rooms in the conference tournament. As coach (Porter) Moser says, you’ve got to pivot when things show up in life and our team has done that.” 

Worthington Christian graduate Bridgette Rettstatt has helped Liberty battle for a spot in the postseason. She averaged 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds during the regular season.

FANNING THE POSTSEASON FLAME – While Loyola was among the first teams to punch its ticket to the 68-team NCAA men’s tournament, there will be a 64-team NCAA women’s tournament beginning March 21. 

In addition, the postseason schedule includes a 16-team men’s National Invitation Tournament, a 32-team women’s NIT and an eight-team Women’s Basketball Invitational. 

The Liberty women’s team figures to be in the NIT or WBI after finishing as runner-up in the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season standings. 

Bridgette Rettstatt, a 2017 Worthington Christian graduate, helped the Flames reach the championship game of the conference tournament in 2020 when the NCAA canceled the remainder of the season because of the pandemic. 

Rettstatt, who also helped Liberty reach the NCAA tournament in 2018, averaged 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds during the regular season as the Flames went 17-7. 

“We definitely had high hopes, especially with the amount of returning players from last year,” said Rettstatt, a senior. “I definitely played more my sophomore year due to some injuries from some players, and last year I was starting until I tore my posterior cruciate ligament near the end of January. This year, we have a solid 10 players, so we all get in about 20 minutes a game.” 

Ohio State would have been in the postseason, but it sat out the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments because of a self-imposed postseason ban stemming from recruiting violations by a former assistant coach.

Jacy Sheldon, a 2019 Dublin Coffman graduate who averaged 16.7 points and Madison Greene, a 2019 Pickerington Central graduate who averaged 13.4 points, were among the leaders for the Buckeyes. Ohio State went 13-7. 

Also in the Big Ten, 2020 Africentric graduate Sakima Walker averaged 3.4 points for Rutgers, which went 14-3 during the regular season. 

Another women’s team hoping to make the postseason was Ohio University, which finished third in the Mid-American Conference and was 13-7 heading into its league tournament. 

Westerville South graduate Peyton Guice was among the key contributors for the Bobcats before sustaining a knee injury in late January. 

Pickerington Central graduate Ibi Watson averages 15.8 points for Dayton, which hopes to play in the postseason after losing out on an NCAA tournament appearance last year because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

MID-MAJOR SUCCESSES – With an 80-53 victory over Campbell on March 7, the Winthrop men’s team captured the Big South championship to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. 

Josh Corbin, a 2019 Gahanna Lincoln graduate, played 14 minutes for the Eagles in the final and averages 6.8 points off the bench. His team takes a 23-1 record into the to. 

Also earning an automatic berth to the NCAA men’s tournament was Cleveland State, which beat Oakland 80-69 in the Horizon League championship game March 9. Rob Summers, a 2002 Gahanna graduate, is an assistant coach for the Vikings. 

One player from the Atlantic 10 Conference hoping to land in the postseason was Pickerington Central graduate Ibi Watson of Dayton, which was 29-2 and on its way to the NCAA tournament a year ago when the remainder of the season was canceled. 

This winter, Watson averages 15.8 points for the Flyers, who lost 73-68 to Virginia Commonwealth on March 5 in the conference tournament to drop to 14-9. 

Watson is a redshirt senior who is close to graduation. 

“I feel like we’ve been doing a good job trying to grow as a team and coming together in the face of adversity,” he said. “I’ve had more responsibility, more minutes and defensively my role has stepped up this year. There’s a lot of guys on this team who are driven.” 

St. Charles graduate Nick Muszynski averages 15 points for Belmont, which lost to Morehead State 86-71 on March 6 in the championship game of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament to drop to 26-4. 

Hartley graduate Morgan Safford is a redshirt freshman who stepped into a key role this season for Wofford, which lost to Mercer 62-61 on March 6 in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament to drop 15-9. 

Olentangy Liberty graduate Ben Roderick is an Ohio University sophomore who has doubled his scoring output to 12 points per game this season. The Bobcats had their final two regular-season games canceled but were 13-7 entering the MAC tournament. 

julrey@thisweeknews.com 

@UlreyThisWeek 

Below are central Ohioans listed on rosters of college basketball teams that are competing in the men’s NCAA, NIT or College Basketball Invitational (CBI) and in the women’s NCAA or NIT, along with their postseason openers:  

MEN 

Josh Corbin (Gahanna Lincoln), Winthrop – NCAA, March 19 vs. Villanova 

Sterling Manley (Pickerington Central), North Carolina – NCAA, March 19 vs. Wisconsin 

Braden Norris (Hilliard Bradley), Loyola Chicago – NCAA, March 19 vs. Georgia Tech 

Ben Roderick (Olentangy Liberty), Ohio University – NCAA, March 20 vs. Virginia 

Jalen Tate (Pickerington Central), Arkansas – NCAA, March 19 vs. Colgate 

Garrett Tipton (Hartley), Bellarmine – CBI, March 22 vs. Army 

Seth Towns (Northland), Ohio State – NCAA, March 19 vs. Oral Roberts 

Ibi Watson (Pickerington Central), Dayton – NIT, March 20 vs. Memphis 

WOMEN 

Gina Conti (Grove City), Wake Forest – NCAA, March 21 vs. Oklahoma State 

Peyton Guice (Westerville South), Ohio University – NIT, March 19 vs. Clemson 

Jordan Horston (Africentric), Tennessee – NCAA, March 21 vs. Middle Tennessee 

Maliya Perry (Pickerington Central), Dayton – NIT, March 19 vs. Northern Iowa  

Teegan Pifher (Olentangy Liberty), High Point – NCAA, March 21 vs. UConn 

Macy Spielman (Upper Arlington), Bowling Green – NIT, March 19 vs. Creighton 

Sakima Walker (Africentric), Rutgers – NCAA, March 22 vs. BYU 

Kyla Whitehead (Pickerington Central), Dayton – NIT, March 19 vs. Northern Iowa