ATHENS — At the home of Ohio University’s Bobcats, and all decked out in Green and White in fact, Green’s Bobcats had to feel right at home on Tuesday night —at Ohio University’s Convocation Center.
Leave it to Convo newcomer Northside Christian to spoil the Bobcats’ return to the Division IV Region 15 semifinals.
That’s because the Bobcats had the lead for a mere 41 seconds, and never led for the final 29 minutes and 10 seconds — as the Central District champion Lions acquitted themselves well for their first-ever district championship, defeating Green 66-56 inside The Convo.
Final score on Tuesday night @ Ohio University Convocation Center is @NCSLions_ 66, @GreenBobcatsBBK 56 in @OHSAASports Division IV Region 15 semifinals. Green goes 20-6, and wins first district championship since 1997. First @SOCathletics I title since 2011.
— @PaulBoggsSports (@paulboggssports) March 8, 2023
There were two early lead changes in the opening minute and 50 tics and two ties, but beyond that, Northside Christian kept pulling away from the Bobcats — building as much as a 40-26 advantage with 4:41 to play in the third frame.
The Bobcats, by tying the Lions at 20 points apiece in the final canto, closed the gap with eight unanswered points — and got to as close as 57-52 with exactly three minutes left.
But the Lions’ six-foot and seven-inch standout sophomore Landon Vanderwarker stepped up, and stepped out, splashing a gutsy three-point goal off the wing 45 seconds later.
Gabe McBee scored a basket at the two-minute mark, and split a pair of free throws with 50 seconds left, but the Lions landed four consecutive free throws in a span of 16 seconds —then got a Vanderwarker stickback with 39 seconds left to seal it.
Green senior Gabe McBee (14) drives to the basket between two Northside Christian defenders during Tuesday night’s Division IV Region 15 semifinal boys basketball game at Ohio University’s Convocation Center.
Ed Litteral | Daily Times
For the 20-6 Bobcats, they captured their first Southern Ohio Conference Division I championship since 2011 —and their first Division IV Southeast District championship since 1997.
They had high hopes of reaching the regional final in fact, but getting behind early, remaining behind throughout, and watching the athletic Lions extend their lead took its toll before their late surge.
The Lions raced out to a 20-12 first-stop lead, and that was with Vanderwarker out of the game early with two fouls —and again with four fouls just a minute and eight seconds into the third.
Green standout freshman Jon Knapp and McBee both scored for a four-point deficit (20-16) at the 5:34 mark, but Green got no closer — with 6-4 standout senior Levi Sampson saddled with foul trouble — until its 57-52 deficit with three minutes to play.
“This tournament run, we’ve gotten off to good starts, but we didn’t tonight. Then we see Vanderwarker goes out with four fouls early in the second half, and everyone knows we have to capitalize on it. But we didn’t. Compliments to them for playing really well without him. They didn’t crack and they kept their composure,” said Green coach J.D. King, completing his first season as the Bobcats’ bench boss. “They hit some shots too.”
Did the Lions ever, especially out of the gate.
Josh Cook canned three consecutive three-pointers in the opening period, as Vanderwarker’s first three answered one by the Bobcats’ Levi Waddell —and gave the Lions the lead for good.
Green junior Abe McBee (5) grabs a rebound in front of Northside Christian’s Landon Vanderwarker (12) during Tuesday night’s Division IV Region 15 semifinal boys basketball game.
Ed Litteral | Daily Times
Vanderwarker’s runout basket made it 20-12 to close the first, as Northside shot a sizzling 25-of-46 for 54-percent —including 20-of-37 from inside the arc.
But Cook’s connections early on was not what Green wanted.
“One of our keys was that he is a really good shooter. Letting him get some easy threes was one of the things we couldn’t give up, and we did,” said King. “Vanderwarker getting out in transition and getting some baskets in space where nobody is guarding him…”
Vanderwarker was 7-of-14 from the field and 3-of-5 at the foul line for a game-high 19 points, as Cook finished with 15 —and the quick and athletic combination of Diamaunte Jackson (14 points on six field goals and 2-of-2 free throws) and Devontrel Jackson (10 points on four field goals and 2-of-2 free throws) gave Green’s guarders fits.
“They (Lions) are here for a reason. And I felt like we didn’t have that same level of intensity early that we’ve had these first three tournament games. We got it there in stretches in the fourth quarter, but kind of gassed at that point,” said King. “But I knew we would go on a run and I’m extremely proud of them for that’s who they are, because there is no quit in my guys. We’re not the biggest, the fastest, or the most skilled, but they’ve got a lot of grit.”
Gabe McBee, in his final Green game, poured in 18 points on six field goals and 3-of-4 free throws —including three threes, his final of which made it 57-47 with 4:21 to go.
Knapp netted six of his seven shots and 2-of-2 freebies for 14 points, as Abe McBee bucketed nine on four field goals and a free throw —after injuring his ankle early on.
Sampson, the Southeast District Division IV Co-Player of the Year as bestowed by the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association, scored just a dozen points —shooting just 4-of-18 from the field while meshing 3-of-4 free throws.
His senior season points per game averaged neared 23, but the Lions shut him down —and forced him into pressing the issue at times, as he played with four fouls through key stretches.
He did grab a game-high eight rebounds, and made off with three steals.
“We felt like going into this game, Levi would get more chances to get looks. We knew Levi would attack at Vanderwarker and get him in foul trouble which he did, but he took some some bad shots at times. Wish his shot selection would have been better earlier,” said King. “Sometimes I felt like he was pressing a little bit to get going. That’s not him being selfish, but just him knowing that if he gets going, we get going.”
The Bobcats shot 41-percent from the floor on 21-of-51.
Sampson concludes his career as a three-time all-Ohioan for Green, as the Bobcats also graduate Gabe McBee —and Waddell and Levi Blevins.
That foursome, said King, has helped put Green Bobcat basketball back on the Southeastern Ohio map.
“They’ve done a great job together this year, and it takes a total team effort to get to this point,” said the coach. “Levi (Sampson) may get a lot of the headlines, but it takes all these other guys playing really well both defensively and offensively to win these games. We have some teary-eyed guys in there (locker room) and it’s emotional, but the amount of support and excitement our community has had the past few weeks, that’s because these guys did that. It’s something to be proud of. When you try a build a program, you’ve got to set the foundation like these four have. We want to keep getting back here, and not make this a once in a 25-plus year thing.”
* * *
Northside Christian 20 14 12 20— 66
Green 12 13 11 20 —56
NORTHSIDE CHRISTIAN 66 (23-3)
Landon Vanderwarker 7 3-5 19, Carter Jury 1 2-2 4, Josh Cook 5 2-2 15, Devontrel Jackson 4 2-2 10, Diamauntae Jackson 6 2-2 14, Bryce Vanderwarker 1 0-0 2, Paul Kuteyi 1 0-0 2, Aziz Bah 0 0-0 0, Justin Meyer 0 0-0 0, Dalton Smith 0 0-0 0 TOTALS 25 11-13 66; Three-point goals: 5 (Josh Cook 3, Landon Vanderwarker 2)
GREEN 56 (20-6)
Levi Sampson 4 3-4 12, Gabe McBee 6 3-4 18, Levi Blevins 0 0-0 0, Abe McBee 4 1-3 9, Levi Waddell 1 0-0 3, Jon Knapp 6 2-2 14, Landon Kimbler 0 0-0 0, Brody Stapleton 0 0-0 0, Mason Neal 0 0-0, Brennan Rennison 0 0-0 0, Devlin Maynard 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 21 9-13 56; Three-point goals: 5 (Gabe McBee 3, Levi Sampson and Levi Waddell 1 apiece)