The first day of the Ohio State Tournament at the Schottenstein Center saw four teams advance to Saturday's finals at the championship matches in both Division II and Division IV were set.
Looking further into the D2 bracket, the next found will feature Norwalk against Columbus Bishop Watterson with a State Championship on the line. After an eventful first day, here's a recap of the two semifinal games.
Norwalk 72 Dayton Thurgood Marshall 64: Even though they were considered the outliers, an afterthought surrounded by three of Ohio's top heavy hitter Division II programs, the Norwalk Truckers kept believing through every step in the game, holding off multiple runs from the Thurgood Marshall Cougars to win by eight points and advance to the State Championship Game.
Relying on their stars to carry the load offensively, Norwalk got 20 points and 9 rebounds from star senior wing Jeff Thomas (a Georgia State signee), 20 points and 8 assists from senior guard Ben Haraway and 17 points from senior wing Grant Hull.
The Truckers were efficient offensively from start to finish, shooting 51-percent from the field on the afternoon and knocking down 18/25 free throws. However, while Norwalk led by a couple of buckets for most of the game, the contest was very much in doubt in the second half.
The game started off at a frantic pace, as Norwalk took a 17-14 lead after the first quarter, before the first half ended in a 30-30 tie. Both teams pushed the ball at every chance in the first half, as each team's coach put an emphasis on attacking the lane.
While the Truckers relied on Ben Haraway to carry them in the first half, it was their star senior that took over when they needed him most.
Leading 52-47 heading into the fourth quarter, Norwalk allowed the Cougars to take the lead at 57-56 with just four minutes to go on a Dwayne Chastain three-pointer. That's when Jeff Thomas showed up.
While Thomas had just five points in the first half, the Truckers star took over in the third quarter, knocking down five jumpers in the period and hitting a deep three-pointer to answer Chastain's shot and re-take the lead for Norwalk.
From that point on Norwalk held on tightly to the lead, until a Ben Haraway and-one drive extended the lead back to five points, 62-57, with just 2:03 remaining. Thurgood Marshall would get no closer from that point, as the Truckers knocked down enough free throws to end up winning by a margin of 72-64.
The Cougars were led by the double-double effort of sophomore post Derrick Daniels in the loss, as he finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds. RaChaun Martin was the high scorer for Thurgood Marshall with 15 points, while sophomore guard DJ Hoskins added 12. Thurgood's trio of supporting senior guards also chipped in on the scoring column, as Davion Ashe, Tremaine Hawkins and Dwayne Chastain each totaled 8 points in their final game.
Columbus Bishop Watterson 56 Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's 51: The second semifinal featured two of the state's most highly touted teams, while also giving fans a rematch of last year's championship game. For the second time in as many tries, the Bishop Watterson Eagles defeated the SVSM Irish, this time by just five points.
Basketball is often a game determined by runs, this game was no exception.
Three minutes into the game it looked like Bishop Watterson was no match for the Irish, as SVSM led 9-2, and then finished the quarter up 15-10. Something harsh must have been said in the Bishop Watterson huddle in between quarters, because the game totally changed starting in the second quarter.
The Eagles opened the quarter with a 15-1 run over the course of the first four minutes, taking a 25-16 lead and forcing Irish coach Dru Joyce into a timeout. That timeout did little to calm the storm, however, as the Irish would enter halftime trailing 30-21, after losing the second quarter by a whopping margin of 20-6.
Coming out of the half the Eagles extended that lead even further, eventually pushing it to a game high fourteen at 40-26 late into the third quarter. It was at this point that another one of those defining runs started. The Irish finally started applying some pressure defense in the full-court, and after a couple of turnovers from Watterson they were able to cut into that lead by scoring the final eight points of the quarter to close the gap to 40-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
From there St. Vincent-St. Mary stayed hot from the field, tying the game at 42-42 with 5:45 to go, en route to finishing off what was a 16-2 run. However, SVSM would be unable to take the lead, as the Eagles executed down the stretch and knocked down free throws to win by five points.
In the win Bishop Watterson, who starts five seniors, was led by the 19 points of forward Matt Lehmann, 11 points of forward Matt Hughes and 10 points of wing Joey DiOrio. Additionally, guards Andy Grieser and Cody Calhoun also made big impacts for the Eagles, scoring 8 points a piece.
St. Vincent-St. Mary's was led by the 18 points of star senior guard Jalen Hudson and the 12 points of junior point guard Josh Williams. No other player scored in double-figures for the Irish, as Bishop Watterson was able to hold sophomore sensation V.J. King to just 8 points on the day.
Bishop Watterson now advances to the state title game where they will face Norwalk on Saturday morning, as the Eagles look to repeat as champions in Ohio.