CANTON — When it came to its most recent opponent, the Buchtel boys basketball team was on high alert.
“They knocked out the three seed and they knocked out the two seed,” Griffins coach Matt Futch said of seventh-seeded Tallmadge, which upset No. 3 Northwest and No. 2 Louisville to reach the Canton Division II district final. “That really put us on notice.”
Buchtel certainly took the Blue Devils seriously. In the end, though, the talented Griffins didn’t have to break much of a sweat en route to the district title.
Top-seeded Buchtel captured its first district title since 1998 by routing Tallmadge 86-52 Saturday at Canton Memorial Field House.
The Griffins (18-7) advanced to play Poland Seminary in a regional semifinal at 8 p.m. Thursday at Canton Memorial Civic Center.
Futch certainly was pleased to see his team get over its 21-year hump, but said there is much more unfinished business to address.
“I thought I would be a little bit more elated,” Futch said. “I’m happy, I’m relieved, but I’m not satisfied. I think our team has that same mindset because we know we have an unbelievable opportunity to make the trip to Columbus this year.”
Tallmadge’s season ended in Canton for the second consecutive year. The Blue Devils (13-13), led by first-year coach Bill Johnson, entered the season having to replace four starters and got off to a rough start. But they finished strong, mainly because of their sheer determination to defy the odds.
“We started the season 4-8,” Johnson said. “It could have gone a lot of different ways. Our guys said, ‘The heck with this.’ We battled and battled and battled to get back to .500.
“The bottom line is, we beat the No. 2 seed, we beat the No. 3 seed and we’re in the district championship against the No. 1 seed. That’s a credit to our kids and how much they didn’t want to lose.”
But Tallmadge simply ran into a juggernaut.
Led by 6-foot-6 freshman guard Chris Livingston, Buchtel overwhelmed the Blue Devils with its length, speed, athleticism and depth. By the time many of the fans got comfortable in their seats, the Griffins built a substantial lead.
They increased their advantage to 22 (30-8) by the end of the first quarter and didn’t look back the rest of the way.
“Watching them and watching their length and how hard they play, I knew it was going to be a tough out for us,” Futch said. “I thought if we capitalized on the weaknesses that they have, we would have a great opportunity.”
Livingston, who was a force as a finisher, jump shooter, playmaker and defensive stopper, scored a game-high 37 points.
Four other Buchtel standouts also reached double digits in scoring. Noah Peeples, a 6-4 sophomore guard/forward, did most of his work inside and finished with 19 points. Left-handed sophomore point guard Ronnell Perie II scored 12 points and orchestrated the offense beautifully with his penetration and pinpoint passing, and 6-5 senior forward Jon King added 10 points.
Senior guard Nick Hussing led Tallmadge with 13 points and 6-4 junior guard/forward Brandon Heigelmann, the Blue Devils’ top offensive threat throughout the season, added 12 points. Senior point guard Sam Seeker, a three-sport star who plans to play baseball at the University of Toledo, contributed nine points.
Futch and his highly skilled bunch aren’t ready to rest on their laurels. Their ultimate goal is to make the trip south to the state capital.
“We have an opportunity to do something great,” Futch said.