By Michael Rich
Olentangy fought back, but a 22-point halftime deficit was too much to overcome as Groveport-Madison punched its ticket to Ohio Dominican with a 54-42 win in a Division I boys basketball district semifinal Thursday night at Gahanna Lincoln High School.
Olentangy rallied to cut it to 10 twice late in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t overcome shooting just 31.5 percent (17-for-54) from the field.
“It’s hard to come back from that far behind,” Olentangy coach Chris Kelly said. “I thought we fought like crazy.”
The Cruisers held Olentangy to just two baskets and a free throw as they built a 23-6 lead in the first 10 and a half minutes.
“I thought Groveport played a great first half offensively and defensively,” Kelly said. “I’d say about 75 percent of our shots were really good shots that just weren’t dropping. About 25 percent, I think, maybe we were a little bit nervous, trying to force something outside.”
Lony Francis scored nine of his game-high 16 points during the stretch, which included a pair of put-backs. He ended up with seven rebounds.
Olentangy cut the deficit to 13 with 3:35 left in the half on baskets by Seth O’Neal and Derrick Wyche on back-to-back possessions.
But, Groveport rallied for nine unanswered points, including a Tyreese Cherry three-pointer with four seconds left, to lead 32-10 at the break.
Sam Hyberg provided a spark off the bench for Olentangy in the fourth quarter, which started with a steal and a dunk to open an 8-2 spurt and cut it 43-28 with 4:28 remaining.
“Sam is a great kid (with) tons of energy,” Kelly said. “He’s had some great moments this year. He’s a fun guy to be around … positive. He’s worth his weight in gold.”
He had a pair of steals, a blocked shot, a couple of rebounds and finished with six points, all in the fourth quarter.
The teams exchanged points until Olentangy came up with seven quick ones to cut it to 10 with 1:58 remaining.
“I think we had 27 shots in the fourth quarter,” Kelly said. “If we hit a little bit higher percentage, that might rally might have been even crazier. I love the fact that we fought back and gave ourselves a chance.”
Carter Kinnaird put-back a miss, Hyberg finished a steal with his second dunk and Wyche found Jacob Walker in the right corner for three after he intercepted a pass at half court.
But, Groveport’s Tyus Ferguson came through with four free throws and a layup to push the lead back to 16 with just over a minute left.
Ferguson went 9-for-10 at the line in the fourth quarter and finished with 13 points. Connor Siepel had a game-high 12 rebounds, Marshawn Davis had three blocks and Corey Baker had four assists for the Cruisers.
O’Neal hit a three and Wyche assisted on a short jumper by Austin Luxedor to cut it to 10 again, but it was too late.
Kinnaird led Olentangy with 13 points and seven rebounds. Wyche finished with eight points, five rebounds and a pair of steals and O’Neal added seven points and two rebounds for Olentangy.
Olentangy graduates 10 seniors off its team — Kinnaird, Hyberg, O’Neal, Wyche, Walker, Luxedor, Brandon and Christian Mazzeo, Cam Wirt and Austin Gossett.
“We’ve had some great games this year — some great moments and some tough moments — but overall, our guys played some great basketball this year and really got a lot out of their ability,” Kelly said.
He pointed to juniors Jason Sieve, Nathan Riedell, Will Elmore, Greg Hendrix and freshman Sean Marks as possible key contributors on next year’s squad. Riedell, Elmore, Hendrix and Marks all had strong seasons with the junior varsity squad.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.