COLUMBUS: Columbus Bishop Watterson put an end to St. Vincent-St. Mary’s season for the second year in a row.
Watterson beat St. V-M 56-51 in a Division II state semifinal Thursday at Ohio State University’s Value City Arena one year after topping the Irish 55-52 in a state final.
Senior Matt Lehmann led Watterson (26-2) with 19 points and five rebounds Thursday. Senior Jalen Hudson paced St. V-M (19-10) with 18 points, five rebounds and four blocks.
“The better team won,” St. V-M coach Dru Joyce II said. “It’s hard to say and not easy to say, but the better team won. I commend our guys for fighting back and not giving up. I think early in the second half we got into foul trouble and it kind of got us back on our heels a little bit.
“We weren’t as aggressive defensively and it kind of rolled over to the things we were doing offensively.”
The Irish were whistled for 19 fouls and the Eagles 12 before a crowd of 9,615.
St. V-M struggled shooting the ball all day, and finished 18-of-50 from the field (36 percent), 5-of-20 from 3-point range (25 percent) and 10-of-14 on free throws (71.4 percent).
Watterson countered by making 17-of-33 field-goal attempts (51.5 percent), 5-of-7 from 3-point range (71.4 percent) and 17-of-20 free throws (85.0 percent).
“We are just very, very excited to be here and to get another victory,” Watterson coach Vince Lombardo said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. Our ballclub did a tremendous job. They executed the things we wanted to do on the court extremely well.
“They are a great basketball team. To have the opportunity to beat them twice in the last couple of years is very special. We are very thrilled and very excited, but our job is only half done for this weekend.”
Watterson will play Norwalk for the Division II state title at 10:45 a.m. Saturday.
St. V-M built early advantages of 7-0 and 9-2, and led 15-10 after one quarter. Watterson responded with a strong second quarter and led 30-21 at halftime. The Eagles, with their effective zone defense, used a 12-0 run that stretched to 15-1 to open the quarter.
Eagles senior Joey DiOrio scored all 10 of his points in the second quarter and senior Cody Calhoun added five of his eight points. Irish juniors Jibri Blount and Josh Williams and senior Jarel Woolridge each had to sit during the quarter with two fouls.
St. V-M compiled a 13-0 run in the third and trailed 40-34 going into the fourth quarter.
“We fought back,” Joyce said. “I overheard coach [Lombardo] say great teams’ players step up. DiOrio stepped up in a big way. We did not expect that from him. We thought he would shoot some 3s. We were hoping he would not be as successful as he was, but he was [making 2-of-2].
St. V-M tied the score twice in the opening three minutes of the fourth quarter at 42-42 and 44-44, but Watterson relied on its seniors — Lehmann, DiOrio, Calhoun, Andy Grieser and Matt Hughes — to win. Hughes scored 11 points and Grieser added eight.
“In the second half, we pretty much did what we wanted to do, but we just got into a little foul trouble and it seemed like we kept sending the wrong guy to the line,” Joyce said. “Lehmann making nine out of 10 [hurt us]. When you look at the stats, one of our goals is to always make more free throws then the other team shoots. That is what they did. I think when you look at it, that is kind of the difference. All in all, I applaud the effort of all these guys, especially Jalen. I am going to miss him. He has been a real warrior and a leader. I feel for him at this moment because I know the commitment he made to moving on. … My heart goes out to Jalen and the rest of the seniors. We have seven seniors.”
Lehmann, Hughes and DiOrio combined to make 13-of-22 shots from the field.
Williams scored 12 points for the Irish and sophomore VJ King scored eight points. Hudson, Williams and King combined to shoot 13-of-38 from the field.
“We were in foul trouble, so we were kind of on our heels,” Hudson said. “We tried to apply pressure at the same time, but we really couldn’t because they were calling really quick, touch fouls. … We were very prepared. We just couldn’t finish a lot of the shots that were at the basket and even our normal 3s weren’t falling.”
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.