By BRANDON SHRIDER
BOWLING GREEN — Pandora-Gilboa was alone in more ways than one this season.
The Rockets finished atop the Putnam County League standings with a clean sweep of the conference, but also entered the postseason as the only current PCL school to have never won a boys basketball game in the regional tournament.
Pandora-Gilboa followed what Rockets’ coach Joe Braidic called their “worst half of basketball” with one of their best, using stellar defense and solid shooting to turn a 17-14 halftime lead into a 50-31 win over Mohawk in the first of two Division IV regional semifinals matchups at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center.
The Rockets (25-1), who haven’t lost since December, will play Convoy Crestview (23-3), a 61-45 winner over Maumee Valley Country Day on Tuesday, for a regional title at 7 p.m. Friday at the Stroh Center. The winner will advance to the state semifinals at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
Riley Larcom led Pandora-Gilboa with a game-high 14 points and Cooper McCullough added 10.
Zach Hayman’s 13 points led Mohawk (19-7), which claimed its first-ever district title this year.
Pandora made just 7 of 18 (38.9 percent) field goal attempts in the first half.
The Rockets opened the game with four early turnovers. Shots weren’t falling and they fell behind 5-2 nearly five minutes into the game.
“We told them (at halftime) that the good news was we were up 17-14, playing the worst half of basketball we played all year,” Braidic said. “Luckily we could lean on our defense.”
P-G’s defense, which allowed just 37.4 points per game during the regular season, came around, and the Rockets capped the first quarter with an 8-2 run for a 10-7 lead.
Larcom, the Rockets’ best on-ball defender who had scored just 13 points in the three previous tournament games combined, scored seven points in the first quarter. Drew Johnson, the player of the year in the PCL and the Blanchard Valley Conference, added the other three points in the quarter on free throws.
“That’s the good thing about our team, everyone can score, contribute to our team. Some nights, our main scorer, like Drew, maybe he’s not scoring. Someone else steps up all the time,” Larcom said.
P-G’s stifling defense conceded just 14 first-half points, allowed the Warriors just three points off of six first-half turnovers and held Hayman to just 1 of 8 shooting in the first 16 minutes.
“Coming into this game, obviously we knew that they were a very good defensive team,” Mohawk coach Paul Dunn said. “You don’t give up 37 points (per game) over 25 games by not being really good on-the-ball defenders. And they did that against us in the first half.”
Larcom, who complained to Braidic earlier in the season when he didn’t begin a game guarding the opposition’s best player, worked his magic on Hayman and held him to 4 of 15 (26.7 percent) shooting for the game.
“They were just doing a good job of keeping me in front of them, using their lower body,” Hayman said. “When I got a little deep in the paint they would shuffle over and use their bodies to stop me and I’d have to stop and try to spin or something.
“Johnson, or whoever it was, would come back side and they got me a few times with a couple blocks.”
The 6-foot-6 Johnson finished with six blocks and Eli Phillips, a 6-3 senior, had one.
“We’ve talked about this since the loss last year in the sectionals,” Braidic said, referring to the night a 16-6 P-G team was beaten 63-57 by Ottoville (8-12) in the first game of the tournament.
“Both teams shot like 50, 60 percent and (Ottoville) wins by three at the end. We talked to the kids that you shouldn’t lose a game when you shoot 50 percent from 3 and 60 percent from the floor. I said that’s all about defense.
“So this year we did nothing but talk about we gotta get tougher defensively. Tonight, I thought it saved us at the beginning of the game.”
P-G held the Warriors to just 11 of 39 (28.2 percent) shooting from the field. The Rockets overcame a 6 of 14 first half (1 of 7 on 3’s) to finish 18 of 36 (50 percent) for the game.
The defense also held Ryan Lacey, who led Mohawk in 3-point shooting at 39 percent for the season, to 0 of 4 from the field and 0 of 3 from behind the arc, including a pair of air-balls.
“They did a great job of containing our probably best 3-point shooter on the team, Ryan Lacey,” Dunn said. “They really focused in on him and that really took us out of our rhythm, took us out of our main offense.
“We’re led by our guards that are really good at getting in the paint. But when you got a six-foot-six kid down there, that’s something we really haven’t seen all year with that kind of athletic ability.”
With just a three-point halftime lead, the message from Braidic at halftime was just to relax and don’t worry about making mistakes. It helped to get Jared Breece, the team’s leading scorer throughout the tournament at 16.3 points per game, back after he played just four first-half minutes due to foul trouble.
The Rockets opened the half on a 10-2 run and outscored the Warriors 33-17 over the final 16 minutes.
McCullough hit a pair of free throws to spark the run, then Breece (seven points) finished an and-one layup and got another layup 45 seconds later. Phillips (five points, seven rebounds) capped the run with an and-one finish in the paint off an entry pass from Johnson.
“We knew that if we just keep playing our defense,” Larcom said, “our offense is gonna come and it did.”
Jenkins 2-1–5, Hammer 2-1–6, Hayman 4-5–13, Tusing 2-0–5, Shellhouse 1-0–2. TOTALS: 11-39 7-11 — 31.
Breese 3-1–7, McCullough 2-6–10, Johnson 3-3–9, Larcom 6-11–14, Eli 2-1–5, Lee 1-1–3, Schwab 1-0–2. TOTALS: 18-36 13-16 — 50.
Mohawk 7 7 9 8 — 31
Pandora-Gilboa 10 7 16 17 — 50
3-Point GOALS: Mohawk 2-10 (Hammer & Tusing 1); Pandora-Gilboa 1-10 (Larcom 1).
rebounds: Mohawk 22 (Jenkins 5); Pandora-Gilboa 29 (Johnson & Phillips 7).
turnovers: Mohawk 13; Pandora-Gilboa 14.