The boys basketball state tournament will once again include St. Vincent-St. Mary.
And this year St. V-M will play in the big school division, advancing with a 79-63 win over Lima Senior in a Division I regional final Saturday at the University of Akron’s Rhodes Arena.
Malaki Branham, Lunden McDay, Seth Wilson and Marcus Johnson each scored in double figures to lead the Irish (23-3) past the Spartans (22-5) before a crowd of 1,825.
St. V-M, which has won eight state championships, will play Olentangy Liberty in a state semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday in Columbus.
“We are very thankful,” Irish coach Dru Joyce II said. “Not too many teams can get to play in a Final Four, and to have gone four years in a row I think is — wow, 11 years in my 18 years is very special. I definitely don’t take it for granted. I have been blessed to have groups of young men like these.”
St. V-M will be making its 13th state tournament appearance since 2000 when LeBron James was a freshman and Keith Dambrot was the coach. The Irish won two Division III state titles under Dambrot and have won five Division II state titles under Joyce. The program's first state title was in Class AA in 1984.
Seniors Keyshawn Jones, Chris Painter and McDay hoisted the Division I regional championship trophy and cut down nets on Saturday, but they want more.
“This will be my third time going down there [to Columbus],” said McDay, a 6-3 Ohio University recruit who had 15 points and five assists. “I want to get those state nets.”
Lima made the more than 2½-hour trek to Akron and was overmatched by St. V-M.
Branham led the charge with 16 points and five rebounds. Wilson contributed 15 points and two assists, and Johnson totaled 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
“I am getting more trust from coach,” said the 6-3 Wilson. “He is putting the ball in my hands to make decisions. He is making me a better player and a better point guard.”
Johnson and Branham, both 6-5, combined to make five layups in the second quarter as the Irish took a 35-26 halftime lead.
St. V-M stretched its lead to 11 points on eight occasions in the third quarter and took a 57-46 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Painter made two free throws to extend the Irish lead 69-49 with 4:06 to play. McDay made 7-of-8 free throws in the final eight minutes.
Painter finished with eight points, six rebounds and four steals. The Irish also received points from seniors Jordan Addison (six), Darius Cone (five) and Jones (two).
“The most aggressive team won,” Lima coach Quincey Simpson said. “… With this team, players eight, nine and 10 could be two, three and four on any other team in the state, for the most part. They are a very well-coached team with a very good group of guys.”
Josiah Fulcher, a 6-1 junior, paced Lima with 21 points and seven rebounds and 6-1 junior Jadakiss Mack scored 12 points. Jamir Simpson, a 6-5 junior, had 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists and 5-4 freshman Khalil Luster scored eight points.
“My hat's off to Quincey Simpson,” Joyce said. “He is a good friend of mine. He worked in my travel program for a number of years coaching teams. Quincey has done a great job, and it was the first time coaching against him.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.