COLUMBUS — When you’re the No. 1 team in Ohio playing in the state tournament, it’s a safe bet you’ve learned to weather a few storms.
Jackson Center, a school with just 61 boys, fell behind Columbus Africentric 16-2 early in the first quarter in its Division IV state semifinal contest on Thursday morning at The Schottenstein Center in Columbus, but a second-half rally lifted the Tigers to a 53-50 victory over the Nubians.
The unbeaten Tigers (27-0) advance to the D-IV state title championship game on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. to face defending state champion Berlin Hiland (26-1, No 2 D-IV). Africentric bows out of tournament play with a mark of 22-4.
“I just kept reminding them to stay with the game plan and when it comes to the fourth quarter, we’ll be in position,” commented Jackson Center mentor Scott Elchert.
Trailing 30-21 at halftime, the Tigers chipped away at the lead in the third stanza against the Nubians, finding themselves down 42-38 with just eight minutes remaining.
In the fourth quarter, Jackson Center took control, outscoring Africentric 15-8 to earn the victory. A big 3-pointer by Alex Meyer on the left wing gave the Tigers their first lead with 1:42 to play, and a pair of free throws with under a minute to play by freshman Gavin Wildermuth gave Jackson Center a 53-50 advantage.
“That (taking the lead) was huge for us. Even though the kids were confident, it was a burden,” said Elchert. “It probably had the reverse effect on our opponent.”
Said Meyer: “We pride ourselves on our poise. We knew we could bounce back as the game progressed and take it over.”
The Nubians misfired on three chances late from beyond the arc in the final seconds, hoping to force overtime.
“One of the keys coming into the game was to control the tempo,” stated Africentric coach Michael Bates. “In the end, we played at their pace. “In order to win a state championship, you have to hit shots like that (3-pointers late). We just didn’t hit shots when we needed to hit shots.”
Meyer (6-2, junior) led the Tigers with 16 points, while Andy Hoying (6-5, senior) finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Jackson Center drained seven trifectas in the win.
Hosie Smith (6-5, senior) scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed seven boards for the Nubians. Kenny Robinson (6-1, junior) finished with 13 points while Fuquan Tucker (6-3, senior) added 10 points and seven rebounds.