The Buchtel boys basketball team showed its usual speed and feisty style of play Tuesday night at East.
For the opening eight minutes, Buchtel forced multiple turnovers that led to layups and 3-pointers. The final 24 minutes were a different story as East adapted to Buchtel’s style and battled back from a double-digit deficit to lead.
A 1-point deficit with 4:10 to go was not about to scare off Griffins senior Tre’ Smith and junior Talen Sims as they combined to score Buchtel’s final 14 points to lead the Griffins to a 73-67 win over the Dragons.
Buchtel (13-4, 10-1) clinches a spot in the City Series Championship Game against Ellet (17-2, 9-2) on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. at Kenmore. The teams split their regular-season games.
“Coming off a loss in the Ellet game [Saturday], our team showed they can deal with adversity,” Buchtel junior Deric Rucker said. “We came back from a big game and a loss at home in front of our crowd to win a big game tonight in front of East’s home crowd.”
Smith led Buchtel with 19 points, six steals, four rebounds and three assists. Rucker finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Sims contributed 14 points, five rebounds and four steals.
“We are really a team that gets hyped off our defense,” Sims said. “I feel like at the beginning, our defense was shifting and guys were doing what they were supposed to do to get points.”
Buchtel used a 15-0 run to lead 21-6 late in the first quarter. Smith, Antonio Hambrick and Rucker scored during the spurt and the Griffins maintained the advantage for a majority of the game. Smith made three 3-pointers in the first half.
“We built the lead by pressuring them,” Buchtel coach Stephen White said. “What we did bad was we fouled them and we were already in the one-and-one and then increased it two shots. They shoot free throws very well and they got back into the game.”
Buchtel led 26-9 after one quarter, 41-29 at halftime and 58-51 after three quarters.
East rallied behind the scoring of junior Derik Lewis (25 points), sophomore Domonick Holley (16 points) and senior Kenyon Philpott (13 points, 10 rebounds).
Lewis made three 3-pointers in the second half.
The Dragons took a 60-59 lead with 4:10 to go in the fourth quarter on a Philpott layup.
Buchtel then regained the lead and never trailed again after six points from Sims.
“This win builds everybody’s psyche and confidence back up,” White said. “My confidence was shaken and their confidence was shaken. Now, we are back on a good note and practice will be a little bit better and everything else will be better.”
East kept it close, but Buchtel made six free throws in a row in the final minute.
“I knew I had to get my concentration together,” said Smith, who was 4-of-4 from the free-throw line in the final minute. “My teammates pumped me up to make those shots.”
East coach Joe Wojcik was happy with his team’s effort, but frustrated by the ending.
“It is the same thing every time,” Wojcik said. “We have problems rebounding the ball and we had an opportunity, but we don’t make free throws.
“Give Buchtel a lot of credit. They played great.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. 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.