CANTON — The Buchtel Griffins are headed back to the boys basketball state tournament.
Freshman Chris Livingston and senior Jonathan King assumed their customary starring roles Friday night and guided Buchtel to an 84-70 win over Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph in the Division II regional championship game at Canton Memorial Civic Center.
A crowd of 1,780 witnessed Buchtel earn its first state semifinal berth since 1997. That team, which finished as Division II state runner-up, was led by Doylan Robinson, who was in attendance Friday.
Buchtel will play an opponent to be determined at 8 p.m. Thursday in Columbus.
“This is a special time for me,” Buchtel coach Matt Futch said. “I work at the University of Akron, my alma mater, and I am over at Buchtel High School trying to guide our young people where I spent my high school career. This is a special time to be able to put our community in this situation to get behind these guys and now compete for a state title.”
Futch, a 2002 Buchtel graduate, said he watched Robinson play. Over 20 years later, Livingston and King joined their teammates in cutting down nets and hoisting a regional championship trophy.
“They gave us their best shot and got back into it within six [points], but we got the win and kept pushing,” Livingston said of the Vikings. “This feels great.”
Livingston, a 6-foot-6 guard, led all scorers with 26 points, eight rebounds and two assists. He scored seven points in the first quarter and nine points in the third quarter.
“This is crazy and so surreal,” said 6-0 freshman Cordell Livingston, who made one 3-pointer. “We are going to Columbus next week.”
King, a 6-5 forward, finished with 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocks. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Futch described Chris Livingston and King as “the 1-2 punch down the stretch” for Buchtel (20-7). Noah Peeples, a 6-4 sophomore, contributed 14 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals, and 6-0 sophomore Robert Young-Jones scored 10 points.
“We just played hard and fought hard,” King said. “We did what we had to do to get the win.”
Jaden Hameed, a 5-11 sophomore, paced VA-SJ (18-9) with 18 points. The Vikings' other top scorers were 6-4 senior Graham Koppelman (15 points), 6-6 senior Khalil Mitcham (13) and 6-2 sophomore Jonah Waag (10).
“They are uber talented,” VA-SJ coach Babe Kwasniak said of the Griffins. “Livingston is unreal.”
Chris Livingston opened the game with a 3-pointer, King made a layup, sophomore Ronnell Perie II made a 3-pointer and King threw down a slam dunk to give Buchtel a 10-0 lead with 5:37 to go in the first quarter.
The Griffins' lead reached 26-9 with 6:23 to go in the second quarter, was 37-20 at halftime and 50-29 with 3:30 to go in the third quarter with Livingston, Peeples, Perie and King leading the charge.
The Vikings trimmed their deficit to 63-57 with 4:10 left in the fourth quarter, but the Griffins answered with a game-clinching 12-0 run to lead 75-57 with 2:19 to play.
“We just stayed together,” said King, who scored nine points in less than a minute. “We have been situations like that before so we know how to stay focused.”
Perie finished with six points. Buchtel senior Anthony Hunt Jr. scored four points and sophomore Martavien Johnson had two points, two assists and two steals.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.