THE PLAINS — In going all the way to Joe Burrow Country, and late on a rainsoaked Monday night as well, Notre Dame did exactly what it needed to do.
That’s because these Titans turned a Division IV boys basketball district semifinal into a respectable rockfight, and got the South Webster Jeeps simply slowed down to a near crawl.
As a result, in an all-Scioto County district semifinal, the Titans’ trips to Athens County continue —as they edged their Southern Ohio Conference rival Jeeps 34-30, inside a loud, hot and historic McAfee Gymnasium at Athens High School.
That’s correct —both the sixth-seeded Titans and third-seeded Jeeps made the long trek to the predetermined The Plains, as South Webster was making its seventh straight district semifinals appearance and Notre Dame its second.
In a non-league regular season meeting mid-January, South Webster —with six-foot and seven-inch sophomore Eli Roberts spearheading the Jeeps at the time — won a defensive slugfest 39-36, in front a fully-packed gym high atop Sunrise Avenue.
But since then, the Titans took off with 10 consecutive wins —while South Webster went from 10-3 after that game to playing .500 basketball for the final month-and-a-half.
Notre Dame, indeed, made it 11 in a row with Monday night’s triumph, as the zone-oriented Titans stymied South Webster to 3-of-24 from three-point territory — for 12-and-a-half percent.
NDHS head coach Matt Mader said he knew his Titans, in order to advance and overcome the Jeeps, HAD to muddy the rainwaters —and the game itself —by getting it into the 30s or no higher than the low 40s.
“We knew they wanted more of an up-and-down the court game, and we’re looking for a game in the 30s or 40s. I think we handled their pressure better than we did the first time. We tried to run some clock, try to get good shots. I thought our bigs did an outstanding job of working for position all night. And of course we’re very happy with our defense,” said Mader. “Teams are practicing against it, but I think we’re keeping getting better at it. We’re very active, we’re getting our hands up for a lot of deflections and I thought we rebounded well late.”
Mission accomplished, as Notre Dame raised its record to now 19-5 —celebrating at center court with its student section following the final buzzer.
That Notre Dame defense was indeed a deciding factor, and factor in the elephant in the room — or rather the gym — with Roberts’ “indefinite suspension” from the Jeeps’ program.
Per SWHS coach Brenton Cole, Roberts was suspended for the Jeeps’ regular-season finale against Northwest two weeks ago — and then again for South Webster’s sectional championship game against South Gallia.
It continued into Monday night’s district semifinal, as Roberts averaged 18 points per game —scoring a team-high 10 points against the Titans.
Obviously, Roberts’ absence impacted the rematch, as the defensive-minded Titans threw their height at the Jeeps with their zone — with six-foot and seven-inch senior Dominic Sparks, 6-2 senior Carter Campbell, and 6-2 junior Cody Metzler.
Notre Dame senior Carter Campbell (22) grabs the ball in front of South Webster’s Owen Mault (4) during Monday night’s Division IV boys basketball district semifinal game at Athens High School.
Ed Litteral | Daily Times
Roberts, for his ability, is a scorer both inside and outside.
The dynamics, no doubt, changed with him being out of the lineup.
South Webster was 8-of-19 for 42-percent from inside the arc, but the Jeeps truly struggled to score —as Notre Dame succeeded in getting the game to its pace.
“My guys, we got the shots and open looks that we wanted most of the night. We just didn’t hit them. We got open three after open three after open three. But we made three, that’s it,” said Cole. “Any night you’re struggling shooting the ball like that, or you’re in the 30s (points) like they wanted this time around…we’ve won some games here the second half of the year where if we’re at 50 or above, we’re alright. But in the 30s, we’re playing right into their hands. We couldn’t turn them over or get easy layups and easy looks at the rim. We really needed to step up and hit shots tonight, and we just didn’t do that.”
Notre Dame never trailed for the final two-and-a-half quarters, locked the Jeeps down into a four-minute and 40-second second-stanza scoring drought, and broke three ties — including 7-7 at the first stop and 17-17 at halftime.
The Titans took their largest lead at 27-20 with 2:42 to play in the third frame — before the Jeeps stormed back with a 10-3 run to the three-and-a-half minute mark of the last.
“If we could have got the lead there, it would have been good for us, because they were playing that zone. They would have come out and played man at that point,” said Cole. “If we just hit maybe two or three more threes…just good shots that didn’t fall.”
That final tie at 30-30, though, would be the Jeeps’ final points —as they trailed 33-30, following Metzler splitting a pair of one-and-one free throws with 29 tics left.
South Webster senior Connor Bender (1) drives in for a basket as Notre Dame’s Carter Campbell (22) attempts to take a charge during Monday night’s Division IV boys basketball district semifinal game.
Ed Litteral | Daily Times
On South Webster’s final possession, the ball went from Connor Bender to Tyler Sommer back to Bender and then to Dylan Shupert from deep on the left wing, but Shupert’s shot was too long —and Campbell corralled his 14th and final rebound with four seconds left.
He was fouled and split the two free throws, thus resulting in the 34-30 final.
Both coaches spoke about Shupert’s shot.
“We rolled the dice and stayed zone there. Just extended out on the perimeter and let Dom take care of anything in the paint. They elected for a three instead of a quick two,” said Mader. “We forced them into a tough shot, rebounded and got fouled.”
“Dylan had to take it,” said Cole. “We got to the point with the clock running down Dylan had to take it.”
Only seven Titans played and only eight Jeeps, as five Titans tallied points with four South Webster scorers.
Notre Dame’s “big three” of Sparks, Metzler and Campbell combined for 26 —with Sparks scoring 11 on a field goal in each canto, and 3-of-4 third-quarter free throws.
He also grabbed nine rebounds.
Metzler’s nine were a three-pointer apiece in the middle two periods plus 3-of-4 second-half foul shots, while Campbell made two buckets and split freebies in the second quarter —before his 1-of-3 at the line in the fourth.
Mader mentioned that trio, as Metzler played through two fouls within the first four minutes —as Sparks picked up his fourth with 5:24 to go.
“Cody battled early with foul trouble, but was able to come back and that not be a factor. Then Dom late in the game gets his fourth foul with almost five minutes left. We rolled the dice and went with him, then Carter Campbell on the glass with 14 rebounds was just all over the place,” said the coach. “What else can you say about the effort those three guys put in?”
Notre Dame’s young guards of sophomore Landon Barbarits (two field goals) and freshman Aaryn Bradford (one field goal) both split free throws towards eight combined points, and didn’t panic amid the South Webster pressure —as both teams turned it over 10 times with Notre Dame shooting 33-percent (11-of-33).
The Titans too — together — have played a lot of basketball as a unit, whereas the Jeeps’ roster has not.
Mader said chemistry comes into play come tournament time.
“That’s the senior leadership and these guys that have played a lot of basketball. We’ve turned that corner and these guys have learned how to win. Where early in the year, we weren’t doing these things. But here late in the year, at the ends of games, we’re making free throws, executing our offense, executing defensively, rebounding the basketball, and doing all the things winning basketball requires,” he said. “Just hats off to these guys and just so proud of them tonight.”
Final score on Monday night in an @OHSAASports @SEDABSports Division IV boys basketball district semifinal game @ @ACSD_Athletics was @GoNDTitans 34, @BVLocalSchools 30. Titans now 19-5 & advance to district finals while Jeeps end season @ 15-8. ND avenges 39-36 loss to SW 1/14.
— @PaulBoggsSports (@paulboggssports) February 28, 2023
The Jeeps’ four scorers included senior Jaren Lower (nine points), Bender (eight points), senior Will Collins (seven points) and Sommer (six points).
Sommer sank a three 53 seconds in, giving the Jeeps the lead, until Metzler gave the Titans the lead for the remainder of the way — with his corner-pocket three-pointer to make it 13-12.
Lower landed a corner triple for the Jeeps’ largest margin at 12-7, as his top-of-the-key trey made it 27-26 Notre Dame — with only 62 seconds to play in the third.
But, South Webster misfired on its other 21 trifecta tries.
Monday marked the final game for three Jeep seniors —Bender, Lower and Collins.
“I’m proud of my three seniors and the boys for the way they worked all year long,” said Cole. “Connor has always been tough-nosed, Will just fights hard and boxes out, and Jaren came back this year to give us some spark both offensively and defensively.”
Meanwhile, the Titans’ trips to Athens County continued on Thursday for the Division IV district championship tilt—at Ohio University’s Convocation Center in Athens against second-seeded and 21-3 Federal Hocking.
The Lancers, at Athens High School in Monday’s first semifinal, outlasted Eastern in an epic effort by a count of 60-59.
Tip time is set for 6:15 p.m.
Similar to South Webster, Notre Dame definitely wants to slow the contest to a snail’s pace.
“Federal Hocking is very explosive and a very nice team,” said Mader. “Their guards, they have five spots who can put it on the floor, pass it and shoot it. They were just very impressive, very athletic. That was an exciting game with them against Eastern. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. We have to keep the game in the 30s or 40s, and transition defense is going to be important. We have to get back, protect the rim and make them take tough shots.”
* * *
Notre Dame 7 10 12 5 —34
South Webster 7 10 9 4—30
NOTRE DAME 34 (19-5)
Landon Barbarits 2 1-2 5, Connie Thomas 0 0-0 0, Aaryn Bradford 1 1-2 3, Cody Metzler 2 3-4 9, Carter Campbell 2 2-5 6, Myles Phillips 0 0-0 0, Dominic Sparks 4 3-4 11; TOTALS 11 10-17 34; Three-point field goals: 2 (Cody Metzler 2)
SOUTH WEBSTER 30 (15-9)
Connor Bender 3 2-2 8, Christian White 0 0-0 0, Dylan Shupert 0 0-0 0, Owen Mault 0 0-0 0, Hunter Barnard 0 0-0 0, Jaren Lower 3 1-1 9, Tyler Sommer 2 1-1 6, Will Collins 3 1-4 7; TOTALS 11 5-8 30; Three-point field goals: 3 (Jaren Lower 2, Tyler Sommer 1)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved