By Tom Usher – firstname.lastname@example.org
COLUMBUS — Lima Central Catholic was dominant all season.
So why should the state tournament be any different?
The Thunderbirds handled Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph like most of the teams on their schedule.
LCC blew VASJ out the side door of the Value City Arena to grab the state title.
LCC used a big second half to run away with a 66-44 victory over VASJ to win the Division III boys basketballstate championship Saturday before 11,109 fans at Ohio State.
It was the third straight year the two teams had met for the D-III state crown, with LCC winning 64-62 in 2014 and this year. LCC lost to the Vikings 63-50 in last year’s state titlegame.
LCC ended its year 28-1, while VASJ finishes 23-6.
“I can’t put it in words,” LCC guard Tre Cobbs said. “It’s a blessing. …. We weren’t going to have the same faces in that van that we had last year. We worked for it as soon as we got back, put in the time and it definitely showed.”
Added LCC’s Dantez Walton, “Last year at the end we had our heads down, as you saw with the newspaper (picture) that we hung up in our locker room as a reminder of that pain we had. This year you may have heard us cheering in our locker room, and that’s a good thing.”
LCC’s Thomas Williams said, “I walked out of that locker last year and said we’ll be right back here next year. To come out and win it is the best feeling in the world.”
It’s LCC’s third boys basketball state championship after winning in 2010 under coach Bob Seggerson and 2014 under coach Frank Kill.
“They were first class all the way. They deserved to win,” VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak said. “They are so good. If Tre Cobbs is not a Division I player, then someone needs to show me what a Division I point guard looks like. The kid’s pretty good and the (Dantez) Walton kid is great.”
LCC was led by guard Cobbs’ 24 points. Cobbs, who was named the D-III player of the state tournament, hit 9 of 14 from the field and was 4 of 5 on 3-pointers. Cobbs also had six rebounds and four assists.
Walton had 20 points and 11 rebounds, including 11 points in the fourth quarter. Walton was also named to the D-III all-tournament team.
Ethan O’Connor contributed 11 points for the T-Birds. Josh Dixon had six rebounds and two assists. Williams had four points and three rebounds. Nick Taflinger had five points.
VASJ point guard Gene Higgins led the Vikings with 15 points. Long-range bomber Sherman Dean had eight points, but was 2 of 13 on 3-pointers, with mostly Walton watching him.
“I’m on cloud nine right now,” Dixon said. Dixon guarded Higgins most of the day.
Cobbs came out hot with nine first-quarter points and 14 at the half. But for the most part, the T-Birds were flat early, getting beat on the boards and for loose balls.
LCC led 11-10 after the first quarter and held a 27-26 lead at the half.
“Coming out of the gate, I thought we were tight,” LCC coach Frank Kill said. “We missed some easy buckets and we kind of played to Villa Angela-St. Joe’s way of slowing things down. We were out of rhythm.”
But the third quarter was T-Birds’ basketball. They owned the glass, were extremely pesky on defense and got the inside-outside and running game in full gear.
“We had to rebound,” Kill said of his halftime speech. “We had to rebound and play defense. It’s an easy formula for success. … We weren’t aggressive. We weren’t defending.
“We got back in that locker room and I saw a bunch of guys who came out in the third quarter and said we were going to be hungry. We got stops. We contested every shot. We were able to then transition.”
The T-Birds started the third with a 10-1 run to pull out to a 37-27 lead with 3:23 left in the quarter. Cobbs hit an NBA-like 3-pointer, O’Connor sank a 3-pointer and a layup.
LCC outscored VASJ 14-4 in the third to take a 41-30 lead.
It was more rebounding and running in the final quarter.
LCC started the fourth on a 16-3 run to pull out to a 57-33 lead with 3:33 to go. LCC won the final to quarter, 39-18.
This time it was Walton and Cobbs doing the bulk of the damage. To start the final quarter Cobbs and Walton hit 3-pointers.
And LCC owned the boards in the second half, 23-9.
“I made it my pact to go out and there and get every rebound I could,” Williams said.
Walton then hit two driving layups, Cobbs hit a 17-footer and Walton hit a putback.
By then, it was over.
“In the fourth quarter Tre looked like he was kind of gassed and I knew I had to take on an extra load,” Walton said.
LCC ended up winning its seven tournament games by an average of 31 points.
LCC outrebounded VASJ 36-22, after the two teams both had 13 rebounds at the half.
LCC shot 49 percent from the field and was 8 of 22 on 3-pointers. VASJ hit 36 percent from the field and was 4 of 19 on 3-pointers.
Walton walked down the back hall with a strong grip around the gold state championship trophy.
“I’ve got some hardware I’m going to bring home,” Walton said.