COLUMBUS: The long stares at the court showed how much this hurt the boys dressed in white uniforms with green and gold trim.
St. Vincent-St. Mary gave a valiant effort Saturday, but Columbus Bishop Watterson ended its quest for a Division II boys basketball state championship by securing a 55-52 victory before a crowd of 12,593 at Value City Arena in Schottenstein Center.
St. V-M senior Fransohn Bickley attempted a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter with his team down by three points. The shot caromed off the rim and into the hands of Fighting Irish senior Nick Wells, who lost control of the ball as time expired.
The Eagles (28-1) players jumped for joy. The Irish (20-10) side felt dejected.
“First and foremost, I want to congratulate coach [Vince] Lombardo and his team,” St. V-M coach Dru Joyce II said. “They are a very good team. They played well. They did all of the stuff that they needed to do to win the game. I applaud them for their effort.
“As far as the game, honestly, I lost the game for our team. I lost it because I didn’t turn up the volume early enough. I allowed them to dictate tempo in the first half and once we changed the tempo, the game changed. I should have turned it up a little earlier.”
Eagles 6-foot-5 junior Matt Hughes and 5-10 junior Cody Calhoun both scored 14 points, and 6-4 senior Bryan Jackson added 12 points.
Two Irish players reached double figures: 6-6 junior Jalen Hudson (17 points) and 6-6 senior Nick Wells (14 points).
“When we were 9-9 [earlier this season], I flashed back to 2011,” said Wells, a player on St. V-M’s 2011 Division II state title team. “I remember when we were 6-8, and I still thought we had a chance to make a run in the tournament. We won four straight to end the regular season, and then we played hard all the way to the state final.”
Bishop Watterson led 13-9 after one quarter, courtesy of a 9-0 run to close out the quarter. The Eagles extended their lead to 19-9 via layups and free throws in the second quarter before Irish junior Jarel Woolridge made a 3-pointer to end the 15-0 run.
Watterson led 26-17 at halftime. St. V-M went to a full-court press in the second half to speed the game up, and cut their deficit to 39-36 heading into the fourth quarter.
Hudson and Wells led the St. V-M comeback that featured a 42-41 lead with 5:26 to go.
The Eagles proceeded to outscore the Irish 14-10 for the remainder of the game with key baskets from Calhoun, Jackson and 6-4 junior Matt Lehmann, who finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
“My heart goes out to these guys,” Joyce said. “As a coach, you hate ... to come to a press conference understanding that your decisions are the reason for these guys’ anguish. But I applaud them because all season long we have been through a lot of adversity. They have never given up. They didn’t give up today. . . . We had a good look to get it to that extra period; it just didn’t fall.”
Watterson played an efficient game. The Eagles passed well and used pump fakes on offense to get Irish defenders out of position. They also mixed it up defensively with zone and man-to-man schemes.
“We just did what we always do,” Lombardo said. “We just try to build off of our defense first. We played great D and one of the things we also try to do is to take away transition from our opponent.”
Wells and Hudson were solid from the free-throw line and in rebounding the ball. They combined to make 14-of-15 free throws and grab 11 rebounds.
“I feel for Nick,” Joyce said. “This is his senior year. He has been part of a state championship, but he wanted this one because he is the senior leader. I love him dearly for all that he has brought to the program. Jalen was new. This was kind of an awakening for him, St. Vincent-St. Mary basketball and basketball in Ohio. He has adapted well.”
Woolridge provided a spark for the Irish with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field. Bickley finished with five points and senior Joey Weber scored four points.
The Eagles limited Irish 6-foot-7 freshman VJ King to five points and eight rebounds on 1-of-6 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 shooting from the free-throw line.
“He is a great player and he is going to be an even better player,” Lombardo said. “Right now as a freshman, we thought if we could crowd him early and really make him work, hopefully limit in his touches and number of good shots that he got. It worked out.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.