To win games, a team has to stay together and find a way.
The Clay Panthers and the Columbus Wellington Jaguars have certainly proven that to not only their fanbases, but the regional crowds that have followed the pair over the course of the 2016-17 campaign.
However, to obtain a victory over Columbus Wellington in the Division IV, Region 15 Finals at the Convo on Friday evening, Clay will have to continue to follow the blueprint that has been laid down by its leader, Adam Betten — one that centers around teamwork and togetherness.
And to obtain their first OHSAA Final Four appearance since 1969, there’s no question that the Panthers will have to follow the above factors in order to continue their run.
“We just have to keep playing as a team,” Betten said. “We have to work together, we have to find the open guy, and we’re going to have to hit shots. We’re going to get open looks, so we’re going to have to be able to penetrate into the lane and kick out to our shooters in order to knock down some shots. We may not get a lot of buckets inside because of their height, so we’ve got to be able to knock down shots, and we’re going to have to defend and rebound. You’re going up against a powerhouse like (Columbus Wellington), and they’re extremely big and talented, but we can’t worry about that. We have to come out, play our game, and do the little things.”
Adapting to the pace of the bout itself will be a key factor, as always.
However, Clay proved that it could adjust to the pace once again against Grove City Christian on Tuesday evening, as the Panthers followed up a gritty 54-48 victory over South Webster — where the Panthers pulled off the victory without hitting a three-pointer during the affair — by pulling off a thrilling 100-97 come-from-behind victory over Grove City Christian on the strength of five treys, three additional three-point plays, and the gutsy efforts of Cameron King and Brody Riffe, who scored 40 of their 47 points from the second half on forward.
Over their last 13 affairs, the Panthers have scored 70 points or more in 10 contests while winning nine of those 10 by a double-digit margin. In the three contests that Clay didn’t break 70, the Panthers found a way to grind out three tough victories, as Clay defeated Eastern by a 45-30 count on Jan. 20 and South Webster by a score of 45-38 on Jan. 28 in addition to its victory in the rematch with the Jeeps in the Division IV, Athens I District Finals.
“This team just finds ways to win,” Betten said. “The mark of a good basketball team is when you shoot just 26-of-40 from the free throw stripe against Grove City Christian, but still find a way to win, or when you don’t hit a three-pointer against South Webster, but still find a way to win. You’ve got to be a well-rounded basketball team at this stage, and you have to be very disciplined, take care of the basketball, box out, and rebound. You need to do the little things, and hopefully, doing those little things keeps you right there in the thick of things with a chance to win the game at the end of it.”
Columbus Wellington, however, has proven that it can adapt, as well. The Jaguars have exceeded the 80-point plateau five times this season, but have also done their homework on the defensive end of the floor, as Columbus Wellington has held their last nine opponents to 50 points or less. Eight of those nine affairs resulted in victories for the Jaguars, including a 52-50 victory over Columbus Africentric in the Division IV, Carroll II District Finals and a 50-43 victory over Waterford in the first of the two Division IV, Region 15 Semifinals played on Tuesday evening.
The size of the unit has played a big role in Columbus Wellington’s ability to close out affairs, as well. In all, the Jaguars used 21 offensive rebounds to outboard Waterford by a 44-25 margin behind the efforts of Division IV All-Central District members Dustin Harder and Noah Berry, who combined for 15 rebounds in the contest. Harder, a 6-9 forward, averaged 13 points per contest en route to first team honors from the district’s voters.
“Columbus Wellington’s post players (Berry and Harder) are among the biggest that we’ve seen this year,” Betten said. “We have to be ready to block out and rebound. (Dylan) Swingle from Paint Valley is the biggest post player that we’ve seen, but those guys are right behind him. We’ve got to be ready to pound the glass. We cannot get beat on the offensive glass. They did a great job against Waterford, and outrebounded them by almost 20, I think. That’s going to be a huge key.”
However, as Betten and his Panthers have proven throughout the season and during their thrilling tournament run so far, the belief that Clay can come out victorious remains a steadfast belief.
“We believe that we can win,” Betten said. “We’re going to try to execute, do the things that we do, and come away on top. I expect the guys to dig down deep. I have a lot of confidence in them, the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in them, and as a result, we’re going to be set to handle what Columbus Wellington throws at us.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7