Boys Basketball: Second half dooms DeSales Stallions in Division II state final

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group

DAYTON – A halftime adjustment turned the Division II boys basketball state final March 21 from a game controlled by DeSales into one thoroughly dominated by perennial power Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

Unable to slow down the Stallions in a half-court game, the Irish relied on relentless full-court pressure in the second half, beginning the third quarter on a 17-1 run to turn a five-point halftime deficit into a 72-50 win at the University of Dayton and their state-record ninth championship.

Desmond Watson’s 23 points led DeSales, which finished 19-8 and came up short of its second title and first since 1987. The Stallions led 33-28 at halftime but committed six of their 16 turnovers in the first 4 minutes, 43 seconds of the third and shot 3-for-11 in the period to fall behind for good.

“They were not competing with us in the half-court. They had to play full-court and we needed to handle that pressure. That changed everything,” DeSales coach Pat Murphy said. “We gave them too many easy buckets. They thrive off live-ball turnovers.”

DeSales' Obed Achirem (left) and Desmond Watson reflect on a 72-50 loss to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the Division II state championship game March 21 at the University of Dayton.

Ohio State recruit Malaki Branham scored 24 of his 37 points in the second half, but St. Vincent-St. Mary began gathering momentum late in the second after DeSales had built a 29-16 lead. Branham’s turnaround jumper and a running dunk started the Irish’s comeback, and he scored eight consecutive points early in the third to make it 43-34, including a dunk that brought much of the crowd of 1,103 to its feet.

Branham and Watson, who were childhood friends and summer basketball teammates before Branham moved to Akron as a freshman, guarded each other most of the game.

“It seemed like we were sleepwalking out there. We had to turn it up,” Branham said. “I just tried to go out there and get a win. If I had seven points like (in a state semifinal), fine. I just did what I needed to do for the team to win.”

St. Vincent-St. Mary scored 52 points in the paint and outscored DeSales 28-8 on the fast break.

Obed Achirem had four points and 11 rebounds for the Stallions.

“This was special,” Watson said. “Getting here was what we preached from the first day of practice. It’s a unique opportunity.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave