By DAVE HANNEMAN
A good rivalry can bring out the best in a basketball team.
It certainly brought out the best in Findlay High on Friday night.
R.J. Nunn scored 14 of his game-high 27 points in a confidence-building first quarter, Ryan Roth and A.J. Adams had 20-point nights as well, and Findlay put together an excellent all-around game when it counted most in chalking up an 81-63 win over Lima Senior in the 72nd meeting between the long-time I-75 rivals.
“The last couple of days we tried to talk to them about the importance of this game for a Findlay High School basketball player,” said FHS coach Jim Rucki.
“I texted some former players. A couple of guys sent back some really good things about what this game means.
“This is a big win for these guys and our program, a very big win.”
With just two returning starters and underclassmen filling pivotal positions, Findlay (8-3, 4-2 TRAC) wasn’t predicted to be a major contender in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference this season. Neither was Lima Senior (9-2, 5-1), not according to a preseason poll, anyway. But some outstanding transfers and some talented young players had energized the Spartans, who entered Friday’s game on a nine-game winning streak, ranked No. 10 in the Division I state poll, and tied with unbeaten Toledo Whitmer atop the TRAC standings (5-0).
But Lima Senior found the Trojans locked, loaded and ready for battle.
“Coach Rucki knows what’s he’s doing — always,” Nunn said
“Before the week even started he told us how special this rivalry is and what it means to play Lima Senior, and we took it to heart. They’re ranked in the state; they’re a very good team. But we were extremely prepared for this game. We did everything that Coach Rucki said we needed to do and it showed. We played well, and it was a great team win.”
Nunn lit the fuse for Findlay, knocking down four 3-pointers and scoring 14 points in the first quarter. The Trojans led 21-8 late in the period, and went up 25-10 when Adams and Nunn scored to open the second quarter.
If the Trojans had doubts when the game started, their play early on erased them quickly.
“I think our guys had confidence going into the game,” Rucki said. “But it certainly helps to see it. That’s when you start thinking, ‘Hey, we can do this.'”
A big part of Findlay’s preparation was slapping a 3-2 zone on Lima Senior, which has done extremely well with a system that stresses dribble penetration and 3-point shooting.
“They’ve shot well all season, but we wanted to have the perimeter covered, limit their penetration and make them shoot over us,” Rucki said.
“We needed them to shoot poorly. We took some chances with the zone, but tonight it worked.”
The Spartans started the game by missing their first nine shots and never really found their touch. Lima Senior connected on just 10 of 33 3-pointers and 24 of 62 shots overall. Compounding that problems was a frigid 5 of 17 accuracy from the foul line, including a 2 of 9 effort in the second quarter when some costly Findlay turnovers and Lima Senior’s ability to get on the offensive glass opened the door for a rally.
Nunn fueled an early rally and Adams and Roth a late one as Findlay went into the lockerroom up 37-21. Lima’s Jamir Simpson opened the third quarter with two baskets and Josiah Fulcher nailed a 3-pointer. But Nunn drilled back to back 3s 40 seconds apart and added another later in the period.
When Lima Senior amped up its press hoping to create game-changing turnovers, Findlay handle the pressure and got baskets from Adams, Roth and Chris Strzempka in pushing the margin to 22 points (54-32).
Lima trimmed the deficit to 14 points when Da’San Clair sparked a 10-2 run to end the third quarter. But Adams scored off an assist from Strzempka, Strzempka put back an offensive rebound and then scored on a nice pass from Nunn as Findlay scored the first six points of the fourth quarter.
The lead hovered around the 20-point level the rest of the way.
Fulcher scored 15 points, Simpson 14, Clair 13 and freshman guard Khalil Luster 10 for Lima Senior.
Adams had 22 points and 10 rebounds. Nunn pumped in 21 points and handed out six assists.
After going 1 for 4 on 3-pointers in the first half, Roth connected on 4 of 5 in the third and fourth quarters as Findlay’s players and fans began to sense a huge win in the making.
“I have to give credit to our fans,” Roth said. “You saw how packed it was. We just fed off that energy.”
“I think it just goes to show how much we value this rivalry.”
Roth said he had some added incentive as well.
“The freshmen got a win (64-43); the JV got a win (58-53). We had to finish it up. We had to get the sweep.”
Findlay faces another major test today when the Trojans travel to Ottawa-Glandorf to take on the 10-1, No. 6-ranked Titans (Division III) in the Route 224 Rivalry.
LIMA SENIOR (9-2, 5-1 TRAC)
Luster 3-9 1-2–10, Fulcher 6-16 1-3–15, Mack 0-3 0-0–0, Curtis 1-5 0-0–2, Simspon 6-14 1-2–14, Clair 5-10 0-0–13, King 1-1 1-7–3, Davis 0-0 0-0–0, Danierl 0-1 1-2–1, Miles 0-2 0-0–0, Johnson 2-2 0-1–5, Thomas 0-1 0-0–0. TOTALS: 24-62 5-17–63.
FINDLAY (8-3, 4-2 TRAC)
Moore 0-0 0-0–0, R. Roth 7-12 2-3–21, Nunn 11-17 1-3–27, Adams 10-12 2-2v22, Strzempka 3-5 0-0–6, C. Stillings 0-1 1-2–1, M. Roth 0-1 0-0–0, Howard 0-0 0-0–0. R. Stillings 0-0 2-2–2, Ankney 1-1 0-0–2, Murphy 0-0 0-0–0. TOTALS: 32-50 8-12–81.
Lima Senior 10 11 21 21 — 63
Findlay 21 16 19 25 — 81
3-Point GOALS: Lima Senior 10-33 (Clair3-5, Luster 3-7, Fulcher 2-7, Mack 0-3, Curtis 0-4, Daniel 0-1, Simspon 1-4, JOhnson 1-1, Thomas 0-1); Findlay 9-16 (R. Roth 5-9, Nunn 4-6, Adams 0-1).
REBOUNDs: Lima Senior 37 (Fulcher 8, Simpson 7); Findlay 36 (Adams 10, Strzempka 6, Nunn 6, Moore 5).
TURNOVERS: Lima Senior 7, Findlay 15.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Findlay, 58-53.
FRESHMEN: Findlay, 64-43.