COLUMBUS - In a rematch of last season’s Division II state championship game, the fourth-ranked Eagles of Columbus Bishop Watterson survived a late rally by Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary to defeat the 12th-ranked Fighting Irish 56-51 Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
Just as in the 2013 matchup, the Eagles (26-2) raced out to a sizeable lead after a Cody Calhoun trey pushed the Watterson lead to 40-26 with 2:35 left in the third quarter. The Irish (19-10), however, found their wind spanning the end of the third quarter into the final eight minutes, putting together a 16-2 run of their own to knot things up at 42 with 5:56 left. The cold-shooting Irish (18-of-50) were unable to put together a final run, as Eagle senior Matt Lehmann helped ice the contest from the charity stripe in the final minutes.
“It was a matter of executing the things we wanted to do very well,” said Watterson head coach Vince Lombardo of the senior-heavy Eagles’ effort, led by Lehmann’s 19. “I thought we matched up well and didn’t let them drive to the basket. To beat them twice the last couple years is very special.
“But our job is only half done.”
Matt Hughes and Joey DiOrio chipped in 11 and 10 markers, respectively.
Irish star sophomore VJ King, who averaged 16.6 points per contest was held to just eight in the loss, shooting a paltry 3-of-13 from the field. Senior Jalen Hudson paced St. Vincent-St. Mary in his final game in Green and Gold, netting 18 points, while junior Josh Williams added 12.
“The better team won. That’s hard to say … and not easy to say,” commented Irish mentor Dru Joyce, who has led SVSM to five state championships and nine state tournament appearances in his 12-year tenure. “The second half, we did everything we wanted to do but it seemed like we kept sending the wrong guy to the line in Lehmann, who made nine out of 10.”
The Eagles will advance to Saturday’s state title game against Norwalk, a 72-64 winner over Dayton Thurgood Marshall, at 10:30 a.m. in the Schottenstein Center.