ATHENS — If last season’s regional runner-up finish for the New Boston Tigers can be described as magical, the defeat the Tigers suffered to Fairfield in this season’s Division IV district semifinals can only be described as disappointing.
Exactly one year ago to the day of New Boston’s first win in school history at the Convocation Center in Athens — a 63-60 win over South Webster — the No. 2-seed Tigers suffered a season-ending 71-55 loss to the No. 7-seed Lions on the same court and in the same arena where countless memories were made.
Riding a 13-game winning streak, as well as being winners of 22 of its first 23 games entering Tuesday’s contest, New Boston never once led the Lions — as its hopes of earning back-to-back Division IV district championships came crashing to a halt.
“It was the tale of our season,” New Boston coach Adam Cox said following the season-ending loss. “Same thing with the Peebles game. We’re down 15-16, came back and tied it up, and we just fell short. When we tied it up I thought here we go we have the momentum, then the blood situation and we were never able to get our feet back under us.”
New Boston trailed by as many as 15 during the first half, as Connor Priest went two-for-two at the free-throw line to give Fairfield a 34-19 lead with four minutes to go.
During a time span that included the final four minutes of the second and the first minute-and-a-half of the third quarters, New Boston used a 17-2 run to square things with the Lions at 36-all — on Grady Jackson’s game-tying bucket after Fairfield led 36-29 at the break.
At that time, Kyle Sexton was forced to check out of the game for an extended period due to a scratch on his right shoulder that the New Boston training staff attempted to stop bleeding.
Once he was bandaged, the junior forward helped attempt to bring his team back in front.
Sexton, whose 22 points and 22 rebounds led all players, missed nearly half of the third quarter as Fairfield again extended its lead to seven at 51-44.
“Never really got over the hump,” Cox said. “Down 15 and we come back to tie it 36-36, we scored the first seven points after halftime. Kyle got cut on his back and we couldn’t get it to stop bleeding. Looking back on it, in hindsight, I probably should have called timeout to get him back in the game. They scored four straight points and we never recovered. Bad decision on my part.”
Fairfield capitalized the most during the first and fourth quarters.
Winning the first 25-19 and executing another 20-point quarter in the fourth, the Lions simply covered too much ground for the Tigers to catch up as quickly as they would have liked.
As a team, the Lions shot 26-for-50 from the field with a 5-for-9 clip from behind the three-point line. New Boston shot less than 40% from the field, finishing just 24-for-61 in total field-goal attempts with a less-than-ideal 3-for-18 mark from three.
“We settled a lot for shots when I felt like we could have gotten to the basket,” Cox said. “Fairfield did a good job of playing their matchup-zone, matching up with our shooters and matching up on Kyle which really gave us a difficult look. Kyle and Tanner had to work for every shot, you’ve got to credit Fairfield and (coach) Josh Howland for their efforts, their coaching staff and the game-plan they had.”
Fairfield’s James Bentley scored a tied-for team-high 17 points on eight-made field goals, Bryson Simmons scored 17 with three of the Lions’ five made-threes, Connor Priest scored 14, and Wyatt Willey scored 11 while going 7-for-8 from the free-throw line.
Aside from Sexton’s 22 and Tanner Voiers’ 10, no other Tiger managed to break into double figures.
New Boston’s troubles at The Convo certainly fall in line with the struggles Scioto County’s boys teams have had this postseason.
After the Tigers’ loss and South Webster’s loss in Tuesday’s second Division IV district semifinal, all of Scioto County’s boys teams have officially been eliminated from postseason contention.
This year will mark the first since 2016 that Scioto County won’t have a boys district champion, and the first since 2009 that Scioto County won’t even have a boys district finalist.
“It’s hard to have a target on your back,” Cox said, of the pressure that comes with being a defending district champion. “Alot of people don’t realize what it’s like to be a top-five team in the state, to be 22-1 and have people shoot for you every game, have people wanting you to lose, wanting you to fall. To have to wear that target on your back is rough for kids. They didn’t stop playing, they didn’t quit, they didn’t give up. Just didn’t play their best game tonight.”
New Boston will graduate three seniors in Malachi Potts, Marcus Saunders and Blake Grant following the season-ending defeat.
Potts and Saunders were key rotation pieces for last season’s Division IV district championship and regional runner-up finish, this year’s outright SOC I championship, and — most importantly — essential locker-room pieces that helped a team bond into a family.
“Definitely not the way I wanted to send out Mal (Potts), Marcus (Saunders), and Blake (Grant), our seniors,” Cox said. “I thought that we would show up to play a little bit better to start the game, dug ourselves a hole we just couldn’t get out of. No one really dreamed that this team and senior class would be one of the winningest teams in school history. I told Mal and Marcus that where you’ve taken this team as leaders should let you know you can do anything in life if you put that same work ethic in.”
While it’s seemingly hard to look toward next season with the season-ending defeat just occurring, the future of basketball in ‘The Village’ is still certainly a bright one.
Aside from its three seniors, New Boston returns each of its 10 underclassmen — including Sexton, Voiers, Jackson, Chase Clark and Jerome McKinley.
“I told them that I commit to coming back as a better coach,” Cox said. “To come back with more discipline, more structure, more organization, more focus and harder work than I did this year. Everyone agreed that they would match that commitment and come back better as a team.”
Fairfield advances to a Division IV district final on Saturday night versus Trimble — with tipoff slated for 9 p.m. at the Convocation Center in Athens.
Fairfield 25 11 15 20 — 71
New Boston 19 10 15 11 — 55
FAIRFIELD 71 (15-9)
Koben Zink 0 0-0 0, Tucker Watson 0 0-0 0, Reese Tetters 2 0-0 4, Tytis Cannon 3 0-0 8, Jon Bentley 0 0-0 0, Wyatt Willey 2 7-8 11, Caleb Payne 0 0-0 0, Bryson Simmons 6 2-4 17, Connor Priest 5 4-5 14, James Bentley 8 1-2 17; TOTALS: 26 14-19 71; Three-point field goals: 5 (Bryson Simmons 3, Tytis Cannon 2)
NEW BOSTON 55 (22-2)
Malachi Potts 0 0-0 0, Grady Jackson 3 0-0 6, Tanner Voiers 3 2-2 10, Kyle Sexton 10 2-4 22, Blake Grant 0 0-0 0, Kage Truitt 0 0-0 0, Levi Bowman 0 0-0 0, Ector Brady 0 0-0 0, Marcus Saunders 3 0-0 7, Jerome McKinley 2 0-0 4, Chase Clark 3 0-0 6, Brady Voiers 0 0-0 0, Austin Gosselin 0 0-0 0; TOTALS: 24 4-6 55; Three-point field goals: 3 (Tanner Voiers 2, Marcus Saunders 1)
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved