DAYTON — It’s no secret, and was completely expected actually, that Friday’s postgame press conferences —following New Boston’s 58-53 defeat against Columbus Grove in the Division IV state semifinal inside the University of Dayton Arena — would be headlined by the Tigers’ top talent Kyle Sexton fouling out with four minutes and 23 seconds remaining.
After all, Sexton —the school’s all-time leading scorer who averaged 21.4 points and 13 rebounds per game as a senior — was a two-time winner of the Southeast District Division IV Player of the Year award, as rewarded by the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association.
From that point on, and despite New Boston’s Brady Voiers admirably coming off the pine and scoring five consecutive Tiger points, the Bulldogs benefited greatly from Sexton sitting on the bench —ending the game on a 14-5 run to erase a 48-44 deficit at the time.
But New Boston boys coach Adam Cox was correct in his remarks — that particular play isolated by itself isn’t what defeated the Tigers.
It was, in part, due to an eight-point deficit at 16-8 —which tied for the Tigers’ largest of the postseason, as the other was 18-10 against archrival South Webster in the district semifinals.
The Tigers trailed 18-12 after the opening quarter, and it was largely due to the Bulldogs being such good passers and cutters —combined with their hitting shots.
They made 11 of their 21 first-half attempts, but it was their ball movement which impressed —as they assisted on nine of those 11 first-half makes, including a pair of three-point goals by Tayt Birnesser, who later burned the Tigers with two fourth-quarter triples as part of the 14-5 game-ending run.
The Tigers turned things around in the middle two periods, outscoring the Bulldogs 32-19 to take as much as a 44-34 advantage almost into the final stanza.
Almost being the key word.
There was, of course, that half-court buzzer-beating prayer thrown up by Gabe Clement at the end of the third — and being a Lenten Friday, it was answered.
“We did such a good job on him (Birnesser) after the first quarter through the third quarter, but then in the fourth, he hits those two big threes, and our lead goes from seven to one in a matter of two possessions. They hit the half-court shot before that, and it took everything we had (momentum). We were looking around like did that (shot) just really freaking go in? It cut the lead from 10 to seven. That three was critical. If he doesn’t make that, then we probably still win the game. We would have been holding the ball and they would have had to foul us. The whole scenario of the game would have changed if that three didn’t go in. But that kid (Clement) made a heck of a shot, and he was a senior who didn’t want it to be his last game. You have to give him credit for knocking that down. If you watch it, he walked up to half court like he was going to nail it and he did,” said Cox.
In truth, Cox’s comments quelled some of the typical Internet message board banter and instant social media kamikaze — and that the Tigers lost because “it was meant to be”.
“Listen, the referees didn’t win or lose that game. It was meant to be the way that God wanted it to be,” he said. “In the end, we fell short, and Columbus Grove played a great fourth quarter and dialed it up when they needed to. That’s what good teams do.”
Indeed, sometimes you get beat by a better team on that particular day.
And, one call here or there — or in this case Sexton’s fifth foul —wasn’t THE reason the Tigers didn’t play on Sunday for the Division IV state championship.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved