By MICHAEL BURWELL
BOWLING GREEN — Drew Johnson flung the ball toward the ceiling and collapsed to the ground. Jared Breece pumped his right arm in the air. And Joe Braidic jumped up and down with his Pandora-Gilboa boys basketball squad with a trophy no other boys team in school history has.
The Rockets used an efficient offense Friday, shooting 56 percent from the floor and assisting on 19 of 24 field goals, as they won their first regional title in school history with a 70-58 win over Convoy Crestview in a Division IV regional final at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center.
“It was just a game of us playing with poise,” said Braidic, P-G’s coach. “We started off rough, the kids I think got punched in the mouth and they thought, you know, this is worth fighting for and we’re going to play.
“From that point on, I don’t think I saw one moment that I saw that we lost our poise because that’s all we talked about coming in here. You have to play with poise when you get to this level. It’s no longer about skill; it’s about heart, because everybody here has skill.”
P-G (26-1), playing in its first regional final in school history, advanced to next week’s OHSAA state tournament. The Rockets, winners of 20 straight games, will take on Marion Local (23-4) at 2 p.m. Thursday at Value City Arena in Columbus.
A senior-laden team with some key juniors as well, P-G had big contributions from each of its starters.
Johnson, a 6-foot-6 senior, scored 16 of his game-high 28 points in the first half in helping the Rockets take a 33-22 lead at the break. He knocked down 6 of 7 shots in the half, 10 of 15 for the game (5 of 8 from 3-point range) and 3 of 4 from the free-throw line.
“He’s just diverse,” Convoy Crestview coach Jeremy Best said after the Knights finished 23-4. “He can shoot it, he could drive it. We lost him a few times early in transition and that’s typically not something we do, so that kind of got him going.”
Junior Riley Larcom added 14 points, five rebounds and three assists, while classmate Breece had 10 points, four rebounds and eight assists to just two turnovers. Senior Cooper McCullough scored nine points with five assists, and 6-3 senior forward Eli Phillips nearly recorded a triple-double with nine points, 10 rebounds, eight steals and two assists.
“Team play has been unreal this year and coach told us, if you guys want to go anywhere in life, it’s got to be a team,” Johnson said. “Everything you do is a team effort.
“Tonight was just the definition of a team effort. Twenty assists, everyone’s hitting shots, everyone’s contributing and it was awesome.”
The Rockets made 24 of 43 field goals, including 7 of 18 3-pointers, and hit 65 percent (15 of 23) from the free-throw line.
“On the defensive end, I thought we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do,” Best said. “But, they pass the ball well. They hit huge shots in key situations.”
After a back-and-forth first quarter in which P-G took a 15-14 lead, the Rockets broke the game open in the final four minutes of the second quarter.
P-G finished the frame on a 12-2 run to build its 11-point lead. Breece found Larcom and Phillips for drives to the basket and hit two free throws, Johnson buried a corner 3-pointer, and McCullough hit a trey off a Crestview turnover.
“That was huge for us,” Braidic said. “Coming in, two good teams like that, usually it’s like it was at the start: us up one, them up one, us up one, them up two, us up three. Then, we made that run, we made some shots, Drew made a couple big shots in that stretch and that gave us a cushion.”
P-G extended its lead to 42-26 midway through the third quarter.
That’s when Javin Etzler got hot from deep.
Crestview’s 6-7 junior, the Division IV Northwest district player of the year, buried an NBA-range 3-pointer off Derick Dealey’s pass with 3:38 left in the quarter.
Etzler, fighting off pressure from Larcom and using screens from his teammates, knocked down three more 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. He had 15 of his 17 points in the second half.
“In the second half, we started to screen a little bit better,” said Etzler, who also finished with 10 rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block. “All I needed was a little bit of room, just to start letting it fly, trying to get us back in the game.”
P-G, however, had an answer for every Crestview shot.
The Rockets, who led 47-40 early in the fourth after Etzler’s deep 3-pointer, never let the Knights get within nine points the rest of the game. Larcom’s 3-point play on P-G’s next possession pushed the lead back to 50-40 with 7:17 left.
Larcom had a 3-pointer off Phillips’ pass, Johnson found Larcom for a reverse layup and Larcom hit Breece for a transition basket late in the game to help the Rockets seal the win. Phillips had several steals as well, including saving the ball from going out of bounds and throwing it to Johnson.
“One of my betters players from years past, the last time we were in the regional (1999), he was my point guard. He came up after the game and he said Eli was the difference in the game,” Braidic said.
Derek Stout, a 6-4 senior, kept Crestview in the game in the first half with 11 of his team-high 23 points. The Knights shot 41 percent (22 of 54) from the floor, 33 percent (6 of 18) from 3-point range and 57 percent (8 of 14) from the free-throw line.
Crestview’s memorable tournament run included a fourth-quarter comeback to avoid an upset against Parkway in the sectional final; a 72-67 double-overtime win over Ottoville in the district semifinal; and a 43-42 win over Hicksville in the district final on Etzler’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“I think that’s a testament and a snapshot of our team: just kind of the never-say-die attitude,” Best said. “We talked about how being honest with one another leads to being loyal to one another. Then we can trust each other a little bit more, and then when you have that, then you start to really love each other. That carried us through to where we were today, there’s no doubt about it. I’m not sure this team was able to do that at the beginning of the year.”
CONVOY CRESTVIEW (23-4)
Sheets 1-5 0-0–2, J. Etzler 6-15 1-3–17, Kline 2-5 0-0–4, Stout 10-15 3-4–23, Dealey 1-8 2-3–5, Stefanek 0-1 0-0–0, Schumm 0-0 0-0–0, K. Etzler 0-2 2-4–2, Schlagbaum 0-0 0-0–0, Vining 1-1 0-0–2, Lautzenheiser 0-1 0-0–0, Gibson 1-1 0-0–3. TOTALS: 22-54 8-14 — 58.
Breece 3-7 4-4–10, McCullough 2-5 4-8–9, Johnson 10-15 3-4–28, Larcom 6-9 1-3–14, Phillips 3-6 3-4–9, Huffman 0-1 0-0–0, Wauters 0-0 0-0–0, Murphy 0-0 0-0–0. TOTALS: 24-43 15-23 — 70.
Convoy Crestview 14 8 15 21 — 58
Pandora-Gilboa 15 18 14 23 — 70
3-POINT GOALS: Convoy Crestview 6-18 (J. Etzler 4-8, Kline 0-1, Dealey 1-6, Stefanek 0-1, K. Etzler 0-1, Gibson 1-1); Pandora-Gilboa 7-18 (Breece 0-2, McCullough 1-3, Johnson 5-8, Larcom 1-3, Phillips 0-1, Huffman 0-1)
REBOUNDS: Convoy Crestview 30 (J. Etzler 10); Pandora-Gilboa 29 (Phillips 10).
ASSISTS: Convoy Crestview 13 (J. Etzler & Dealey 4); Pandora-Gilboa 19 (Breece 8).
BLOCKS: Convoy Crestview 1 (J. Etzler); Pandora-Gilboa 1 (Johnson).
STEALS: Convoy Crestview 4 (J. Etzler, Kline, Stout, Gibson); Pandora-Gilboa 10 (Phillips 8).
TURNOVERS: Convoy Crestview 10, Pandora-Gilboa 8.
TOTAL FOULS: Convoy Crestview 18, Pandora-Gilboa 14.
FOULED OUT: Stout (CC).