Boys Basketball: Westerville Central Warhawks fall in 'tough' Division I state final

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group

DAYTON – The Westerville Central boys basketball team ran out of last-second heroics. 

The Warhawks, whose run to the Division I state tournament was highlighted by two late game-winning shots, missed a third in a 43-42 loss to Centerville in the championship game March 21 at the University of Dayton. 

Landon Tillman’s 3-pointer from the corner bounced off the front of the rim as time expired, snapping a 15-game winning streak and closing the most successful season in Central’s history with a 23-3 record. The Warhawks were playing in their first state tournament. 

“This is a tough one,” Central coach Kevin Martin said. “This group I have is a group of fighters and that was all played out tonight. We had a very hard time grasping control of the game. I felt like we were playing from behind most of the night.” 

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. 

Tasos Cook’s half-court shot at the buzzer gave Central a 45-44 win over Gahanna in a regional final March 13 at Westerville South. 

Westerville Central's Tasos Cook weaves through the Centerville defense on his way to a basket during the Division I state championship game March 21 at the University of Dayton. The Warhawks lost 43-42.

The Warhawks trailed for most of the state title game until using an 11-0 run, capped by M.J. Davis’ back-to-back 3-pointers, to take a 39-34 lead with 5 minutes, 44 seconds remaining. 

Centerville, which also was playing in its first state tournament, quickly responded with a 9-0 run to take the lead for good. Quinn Hafner’s 3-pointer with 2:20 to play closed the scoring for the Elks. 

Tillman hit a 3-pointer with 44.5 seconds left to pull Central to within 43-42. 

“We got a five-point lead and then they came right back at us,” Martin said. “We had to chase the game a little bit the last couple of minutes, but this group continued to fight. We got the ball back down one, which is in a position that this group has thrived in this postseason. 

“We got a shot in the corner from Landon Tillman, who had a heck of a night, and this time it didn’t fall. 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.” 

Tillman connected on four 3-pointers and led the Warhawks with 16 points. Cook scored 14 points and Davis had eight in their final prep contest. 

Sophomore point guard Gabe Cupps, the son of Centerville coach Brook Cupps, led the Elks with 16 points. Centerville finished 26-3.

The teams combined for just seven free throws, with Central finishing 0-for-4 and Centerville going 1-for-3. 

All three of the Warhawks’ losses were by one point. They dropped consecutive OCC-Ohio Division contests in January to Gahanna (56-55 on Jan. 20) and North (51-50 on Jan. 22).

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank