COLUMBUS - A potential game-changing shot rimmed in and out with three minutes to go and with it went the title hopes of Wauseon on Saturday morning.
Akron St. Vincent-St. Marys went on to score the final 10 points en route to a 45-30 victory over the Indians in the Division II state title game.
"It felt good off my hands," Wauseon's Carter Bzovi said of his 3-pointer with his team down 35-30. "It looked good off my angle ... but it wasn't meant to be."
Wauseon head coach Chad Burt could only think about what might have been had the Indians pulled within 35-33.
"They looked a little rattled and we had the pace to our liking," Burt reflected. "It felt like the arena was starting to back us. I thought the roof might explode if we could get it to two or three."
But a pair of 10-0 runs along with poor shooting proved too much to overcome for the Indians, which had a 26-game winning streak come to an end in closing the year at 27-2.
"Our defense got a lot of stops to start the fourth, we just couldn't put the ball in the hole," said Burt, whose team shot 19 fewer shots than SVSM and finished 12-of-28 from the field for the game while also struggling with a 4-of-13 performance at the foul line.
"I don't know if it was the pressure or the venue, we're not used to playing in arenas," Burt said about the shooting problems. "It was probably a combination."
Despite missing four out of five free-throw attempts in the first two minutes of the final stanza, Wauseon trimmed a nine-point deficit to five after Austin Rotroff scored on a putback and with four minutes left added one of two at the line.
"I guess we got comfortable with an 11-point lead," SVSM coach Dru Joyce said. "But when it was on the line you saw the character and heart of these guys."
After Bzovi's miss, the Fighting Irish scored eight points in a one-minute timeframe that featured three steals created by the press.
"The guys could see the urgency on my face, we needed to end this thing," Joyce said. "We've been telling them our 11 guys that we played today had to be better than their seven. We had to wear them out. You could tell in that last minute they had nothing left to respond."
The Indians, which jumped on top with the first five points of the contest, led 12-10 after one, but Rotroff was on the bench with two fouls.
"They had problems with him at the rim but give them credit they attacked him well at the hole," Burt noted.
An Owen Newlove bucket on a pass from Levi Seiler had Wauseon ahead for the last time at 14-12 before Justin Sampson scored to ignite a 10-0 run that was capped off by a steal and slam by Jayvon Graves.
"That's being who we are," Joyce explained about the pressure defense applied that forced 12 Wauseon first-half turnovers, five in the final four minutes of the second quarter. "We were going to press and trap and play 94 feet. We were getting turnovers and you could see the pressure was getting to them."
The Indians ended with a season-high 23 turnovers, with Graves recording seven steals to lead the cause for the Fighting Irish defense.
"They have great athletes," Wauseon senior point guard Brendan Britsch said. "They had good pressure but we settled in after awhile. Then they cranked it back up."
That was the game plan by Joyce, whose team ended the season with a 25-5 record in winning the seventh state title in school history.
"We felt they relied on a couple guys to play a lot of minutes," the SVSM coach said. "Sooner or later if we kept the pressure on there would be some cracks. It's hard to duplicate what we do in practice."
Rotroff scored two quick baskets in the third quarter and Bzovi connected on a drive, but SVSM stayed in front thanks to Graves, who had nine of his game-high 25 points in the stanza.
"What he does is very, very impressive," Burt said of the Division II Player of the Year. "They're not just athletes, they're basketball players. They understand the game and understand how to attack pressure.
"He's the real deal," Burt continued about the 6-2 Buffalo recruit. "Carter's guarded some good players but the reality is he was better than our defense today."
While Graves was the lone SVSM player to score in double figures, Rotroff was the only one on Wauseon in double digits with 18 points to go along with nine boards.
"We recognized to some degree they were right-hand dominate," Joyce said about the strategy against Wauseon. "If they were going to score it was going to be to the left. If you do that you make it hard on them.
"The 6-9 guy was gonna get some, you just didn't want him to have a career day. The ones he did get he earned."
Bzovi, one of three seniors on the Indians along with Britsch and Logan Hines, added eight points.
"When we were in seventh and eighth grade we had 15 guys and now we're down to three," Bzovi said about the trio. "It's a credit to them to stick it out. It's been fun."
With three starters back in Rotroff, Newlove and Brooks Gype, the Indians will certainly have a target on their back in an effort to return to state, something not accomplished before this season since 1994.
"I look forward to getting back at it this summer and getting back here next year," the 6-9 Rotroff said.