St. Thomas Aquinas junior Anthony Moeglin dribbled the ball down the court in a full sprint as the clock wound down Thursday in a Division IV boys basketball state semifinal.
Moeglin had a big smile as he eluded Canal Winchester Harvest Prep defenders and time expired in the fourth quarter.
His happiness was obvious as the Knights defeated the Warriors 54-41 before a crowd of 8,028 on Thursday at Ohio State University’s Value City Arena.
“We are in the state championship game,” Moeglin said in a postgame news conference after exchanging hugs with teammates and coaches on the court.
“I was looking into the crowd and everyone is going crazy, arms are flailing, and our team is running onto the court and you hear the buzzer sound. You say, ‘We are here. This is the big show. This is the big dance and we are in the state championship game.’ ”
Aquinas will play in the Division IV state final at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against Convoy Crestview, who beat New Madison Tri-Village 54-50 on Thursday night.
Sophomore Jacob Paul scored 15 points and grabbed four rebounds to lead the Knights (18-11) over the taller and quicker Warriors (26-2). Moeglin contributed 11 points and 14 rebounds, and senior Austin Hill scored 11 points.
“A funny thing happened yesterday,” Aquinas coach Matt Hackenberg said. “We went to BW3’s and the waitress comes up to us and she goes ‘Is this a swim team?’ I think that kind of characterizes us a little bit because we don’t exactly look the part. We don’t look like a great team, but we do the things necessary to win basketball games.
“We took care of the ball for the most part, except for a small stretch there in the fourth quarter. We play really hard and defend well. We do the necessary things to win a lot.”
Hackenberg, 28, started five guards: 6-foot Moeglin, 5-9 Paul, 6-3 Hill, 5-10 junior Daniel Piero and 5-9 senior Sam Pusateri. Piero scored seven points and four rebounds, and Pusateri had three assists.
Junior David Dennis Jr., who is 6-1, paced Harvest Prep with 12 points and nine rebounds, and 5-11 senior Gideon Woodson-Levey scored nine points.
“They are a very, very good basketball team,” Moeglin said. “Dennis is an absolute stud, and [5-10 senior Sean Blackburn], he got to the hole whenever he wanted to and [6-4 junior Rael Windley] is a big boy down low. After 32 minutes of playing basketball, you realize there is a reason they are 26-1 [coming into the game]. This is a testament to this basketball team. We have that never quit attitude.
“You come out and they didn’t even know who we were. We are 17-11 [coming into the game] and from Louisville, Ohio, in the state final four. We came out and kind of let the scene get to us a little. They got out to a 6-0 lead and then coach calmed us down and we calmed ourselves down.”
Hackenberg reflected on that huddle with a grin.
“I called the timeout to tell them to relax,” Hackenberg said. “But when I walked into the huddle they were already all telling each other to relax and that they were fine, so then I just made something up real quick to finish out the timeout because they had already told each other to calm down and were fine.”
Aquinas and Harvest Prep were tied 12-12 after one quarter and 26-26 at halftime. Aquinas outscored Harvest Prep 28-15 in the second half. The Knights built a lead in the third quarter and then maintained it in the fourth quarter.
Paul made 9-of-9 free throws and 3-of-9 field-goal attempts.
“I needed to step it up a little towards the end because it was a close game,” Paul said. “We all stepped up towards the end. We took care of the ball at the end and made them come out and play defense on us.”
Junior Frank DiMarzio scored six points for Aquinas and junior Pete Ruthe added four.
Aquinas made 16-of-46 from the field (34.8 percent), 4-of-21 from 3-point range (19 percent) and 18-of-26 on free throws (69.2 percent).
Harvest Prep made 18-of-45 field-goal attempts (40 percent), but struggled from 3-point range (1-of-15, 6.7 percent) and the free-throw line (4-of-11, 36.4 percent).
“They did a great job tonight,” Harvest Prep coach David Dennis Sr. said. “They played physical, made shots from the field and made their free throws.”