COLUMBUS - Invincible? No
Elida had the state’s top-ranked team on the ropes on Saturday in the Division II championship game but a basket by Andre Yates with four seconds remaining was enough to keep Dayton Dunbar perfect on the season with a 54-52 victory at the 90th annual Boys State Basketball Tournament.
“I felt like it was in my hands,” said Yates, who scored 10 points in the game but only two in the second half.
It just so happened to be the biggest two of the contest.
“I think it was destiny,” said the 6-1 left-handed guard heading to Creighton in the fall. “The ball went to me on the left-hand side. I had to put the team on my back.”
Reggie McAdams had put Elida on his back all game long and went to the foul line with 11.8 seconds remaining down 52-51. The 6-6 senior was good on the first but long on the second and Damarion Geter hauled in the rebound and hit Yates with a quick outlet pass.
“When they missed the free throw and we got the outlet to Dre I was going to call a timeout,” reflected Dunbar coach Peter Pullin. “But I looked down the court and they were all spread out.
“He came here for a reason and he’s man enough to take it make or miss,” Pullin continued about Yates, who played the last three years at Trotwood-Madison. “At worst I was thinking they’d go after it and foul. He came here with a purpose, he wanted to win state. When we got here we told him we were going to win state.”
For one half it appeared Elida would become just the second school ever from the Western Buckeye League to claim a boys state basketball title, denying the Wolverines of a second crown in three years.
Adams scored 11 points in the opening quarter to put the Bulldogs in front 17-10 and when Dakota Mathias capped a 6-0 run with a pair of free throws at the 2:09 mark of the second quarter Elida was in control, 27-16.
“If we made shots and rebounded the basketball I thought we could do what we did in the first half,” Elida coach Denny Thompson explained.
But a different Dunbar team came out of the locker room after the Wolverines went in trailing 29-22.
“We started the game with too many threes and too many one-shot possessions,” Pullin noted. “We talked at half that we’ve got to go to the basket and start drawing fouls. The game changed when we were able to pick up the intensity at the start of the third quarter.”
A three-point play by Mathias and a triple by McAdams pushed Elida’s advantage to 35-24 just 2:17 into the second half when suddenly the game changed with a patented Dunbar run starting with a Deontae Hawkins' 3-pointer and Gary Akbar followed with a steal and layup.
Seven Elida turnovers in a span of 10 possessions to close out the third quarter resulted in 18 consecutive points by the Wolverines, which led 42-35 entering the fourth quarter.
“Once we got playing like this, and they fell into it just a little bit, we feed off of that,” Pullin said of full-court pressure helping turn the tide. “Every game is like that where we’ll have some quarter and that’s the game.”
After Akbar pushed the Dunbar run to 20-0 with a hoop, McAdams gave the Bulldogs their first points in 6:52 with two foul shots. Geter put the Wolverines back up by nine, their biggest lead of the game, before Cory Royster was good on two at the charity stripe for Elida.
When McAdams hit a foul-line jumper with 4:08 to go, the first Elida field goal in 9:35, the Bulldogs were within five.
“Like a good team they overcame that,” Pullin said of his team’s inability to put away Elida with the 20-0 run.
Leading 52-45 on an Akbar bucket at the 2:14 mark, Dunbar gave Elida a chance when freshman AJ Harris was called for a foul and technical with 2:01 to play. McDonald and Mathias were each good on two foul shots to pull Elida within 52-49 and it stayed that way until Mathias was sent to the stripe with 31 seconds left. The sophomore hit two and seven seconds later Chris McGuire was at the line for Dunbar shooting a one-and-one. Royster pulled down a missed free throw and fed McAdams who put up an eight-foot runner while driving down the left side of the lane that was off the mark. However, a foul was called with 11.8 seconds to play setting up the exciting finish that culminated when a half-court shot by Mathias came up short.
“It hurts playing a great game like we did,” said McAdams, who led everybody with 24 points. “All we could ask was a chance to win. I can’t give enough credit to the guys. We didn’t back down.”
In the end the third quarter proved to be the difference.
“We really haven’t faced pressure very much,” Thompson said. “Until you experience it ... there’s got to be much crisper passes, find the open spot, everything intensified.
“Our turnovers in that stretch led to easy baskets. We knew going in we’d have turnovers but we didn’t want them to lead to points. In that stretch turnovers led to points.”
It brought an end to the four-year career of McAdams, the all-time leading scorer at the school and a three-year captain for the Bulldogs.
“He’s been such an integral part of what we’ve done,” Thompson said. “I can’t say enough about his four-year history.”
Mathias added 16 points for the Bulldogs, which close out a 24-4 season that included a share of the Western Buckeye League title with Defiance and a first trip to the state tourney.
Hawkins, a 6-8 senior headed to Wichita State, had 14 points and a dozen boards for Dunbar, which completed a perfect 28-0 season. Geter chipped in 11 points and Akbar, a 6-5 senior going to Cleveland State, scored 10.
“It was a championship game with two good teams playing their hearts out,” said Pullin, who now has a 207-25 record at Dunbar including four state titles in seven years.