COLUMBUS — Team play outweighed athleticism on the first day of the 92nd annual boys state tournament on Thursday.
Norwalk, Columbus Watterson and Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas outhustled opponents in advancing to Saturday’s state championship games before Crestview got past New Madison Tri-Village 54-50 in an exciting finale to day one.
Each head coach understood what they were up against in the first three games.
“If you look at us warming up we’re not very impressive,” admitted Norwalk coach Steve Gray. “We start only one player over 6-1. But we only average eight turnovers a game and shoot 50 percent as a team. And we’ve had a tendency to lock things down in the second half.”
Said Watterson coach Vince Lombardo about Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary: “They can get uptempo and get to the rim. That’s one type of game we could not get into.”
St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Matt Hackenberg summed things up best.
“A funny thing happened yesterday on our way to BW3s,” Hackenberg said after his team, which starts just one player taller than 6-0, beat much taller and athletic Harvest Prep squad. “The waitress says, ‘Is this the swim team?’ That characterizes us. We don’t look like a great team but we play really hard. We defend well and do the things necessary to win.”
Now Aquinas matches up with unbeaten Crestview in the finals.
“We as coaches in ’03 were blessed and fortunate to be in this situation,” Crestview coach Jeremy Best said. “The program has been here before, we just want to take that next step.”
A step senior guard Cam Etzler has looked forward to all season.
“We set a motto to play 29 games and Saturday at 1:30 we’re going to be there,” Etzler said.
Here are more tidbits on the opening day of the tournament.
• Norwalk’s Ben Harraway is the third player in NOL history to score 1,000 points and have 500 assists in a career. Jon Diebler (Upper Sandusky) and Nick Dials (Willard) are the previous to do it.
• Norwalk coach Steve Gray: “Things aren’t always fair in the state of Ohio ... I hope that Competitive Balance passes. These are Norwalk kids. They’re great role models for the little kids of Norwalk.”
• After allowing 12 offensive boards in the first half, Norwalk gave up six to the much taller Thurgood-Marshall squad in the second half. “We asked Jeff (Thomas, Norwalk’s tallest player) really nicely if he’d box him out,” Gray said about the halftime discussion.
• Thurgood-Marshall’s Derrick Daniels and Darnell Hoskins Jr. played on the same AAU team in the summer with Lima CC’s Xavier Simpson, Dantez Walton and Tre Cobbs. T-M’s Landon Brazile was on the same AAU squad with Thomas and Haraway of Norwalk.
• Thurgood-Marshall, which has been state runners-up three times - once as Colonel White, is coached by Darnell Hoskins, who was on the 1991 Dayton-Chaminade team that finished second at state. Hoskins went on to play for one year at Wisconsin before transferring to a successful career at Dayton (sounds a little like Jordan Sibert, who played in the state tourney for Cincinnati Princeton in 2009 before going to Ohio State and then Dayton).
• Here’s a heck of a workout for Norwalk’s Harraway and Thomas, who are cousins: “Before every game except today Ben and Jeff go through a 40-minute shooting workout led by Jeff’s dad,” Gray said of his senior leaders. “Jeff’s dad is nuts. I had someone on the team that said ‘I’m glad that’s not my dad.’”
• SVSM 6-5 junior Jibri Blount is the son of Mel Blount, the NFL Hall of Famer with the Pittburgh Steelers.
• Columbus Watterson coach Vince Lombardo when asked if there was early dismissal or no school on Thursday, which is 10 minutes away from the state tourney: “Academics first, Mark (Znidar of Columbus Dispatch), you know that.”
• Of the seven seniors on SVSM, six were part of the two-time state champion football team. Four of those (Dante Booker Jr, Ohio St.; Paris Cambell Jr, Ohio St.; Travonte Junius, Akron; and Newman Williams, Akron) are on Division I football scholarships and another (Aaron Bushner, Lake Erie) a D-II scholarship. “They did not have to come out,” SVSM coach Dru Joyce said of the football seniors, which saw little action in the semifinal loss to Watterson. “They’ve been with me for four years. They’re very precious to me.”
• Joyce on putting players back in the game with first-half foul troubles: “I have a principle like some coches do, get two fouls the first half and you sit ’til the second half. But things got desperate so we had to play them.”
• SVSM played nine games this season against teams that made it to the regionals.
• Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas, which made it to regionals in Division III a year ago, was 11-11 entering the sectional tournament.
• Harvest Prep’s David Dennis Jr., the son of third-year head coach David Dennis Sr., played the past two years at Hilliard Darby. In addition to Dennis Jr., Dana Coffman and Rael Windley, both juniors, are starters that transferred to the Warriors this year. Two non-starters were also transfers
• Harvest Prep, which had won 12 games by 30 or more points this season, was ineligible for the tournament the past two seasons, as were the girls, due to rules violatons.
• Anthony Moeglin of St. Thomas on how playing quarterback in football helps on the court: “I’ve been in games and folded. I’ve felt like I let the team down. But that experience on the football field and to be on the basketball court ... I felt good. There were a lot of people there and TV cameras. The experiences I’ve had helped in games like this to not fold.”
• Harvest Prep was just 7-15 last season but finished 26-2 this year.
• Word is that former Harvest Prep head coach Mike Thornton, who led the team at state back in 2007 against Holgate, will be the head coach at City Prep in Columbus. It is currently a sixth-ninth grade school that will become a Prep School, ala Huntington Prep, and not be affiliated with the OHSAA.
• Crestview had not given up more than 39 points in any tournament game but New Madison Tri-Village scored 16 in the first quarter. While the Patriots did top 40, it took Tri-Village 18 minutes of game time to score 16 more points.
• The last time Tri-Village was at state an unbeaten Patriot squad lost to St. Henry and Bobby Hoying in the championship game back in 1991.
• It was not a great day for Division IV co-players of the year in the state. Out of the four that played only Tyler Cook of Tri-Village reached his average. Dennis (Harvest Prep) scored 12 (10 under average), Austin Hill (St. Thomas) had 11 (six under average) and Damian Helm (Crestview) 10 (15 under average). Cook, who averages 19, finished with 20.
• Five former Ohio High School greats will be recognized during Saturday’s Division II state final. Jessica Davenport, Bob Golic, Abby Johnston, Jim Paxson and John Paxson will join the OHSAA Circle of Champions.