By Michael Rich
If Olentangy Orange boys basketball coach Anthony Calo hears one ball dribbling when he walks by the gym, it’s a good bet that it’s forward Evan Lewis.
All of that hard work and dedication paid off when Lewis pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back with 13.5 seconds left to give the Pioneers the lead for good in a 51-49 victory over visiting district-rival Olentangy Friday night.
It’s been a long road for Lewis, now in his senior season.
“Evan probably hates me saying this, but it’s true: he got cut in seventh grade,” Calo said. “And (now), he is the hardest working kid maybe that I’ve ever coached. I’m just so happy and proud of that kid. I know how much he wants it and I want it for him.”
The win gives Orange the early advantage as the last remaining unbeaten in OCC-Capital play.
Lewis played solid all around for Orange. He scored a game-high 16 points and added seven rebounds and two assists.
“It was all my teammates,” he said. “They were just getting me set up. I (worked) hard and so did everybody else. It was a tough win.”
Orange (4-0, 3-0 OCC) trailed 37-30 after three quarters thanks to a banked three-pointer by Seth O’Neal at the buzzer.
Lewis fed Grant Gossard on a post-to-post pass for a layup midway through the fourth, though. Gossard was fouled on the play and tied the game 39-39 with the free throw.
Olentangy (2-1, 2-1 OCC) followed by scoring six of the next seven points to take a 45-40 lead on a pair of free throws by Carter Kinnaird and another by Jason Sieve.
Adam Rieger’s basket with 1:25 left in the game gave the Pioneers a 46-45 lead, their first since a 9-8 edge in the first quarter, capping a 6-0 run. Alex Eha fed Colin Shepherd on an inbound pass to the right corner for a three-pointer that started the run.
“They had us until the end … they absolutely had us,” Calo said. “I give them a lot of credit, they played a good game. The will was going to win … and theirs did for a large portion of that game.”
Shepherd scored 15 points and added three assists for Orange. Gossard had a double-double, scoring 10 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. He also blocked three shots.
“We had a major height advantage,” Calo said. “We did not take advantage of it in the first half. Give them credit — they didn’t allow us to, and they did a great job.”
The Pioneers got off to a fast start, getting baskets by four different players during an early run, which was capped by a Cam Barron basket.
Olentangy came storming back with a 7-0 run of its own, which included a three-pointer by Sam Hyberg to give it the lead. Brandon Mazzeo picked up a steal and O’Neal fed Hyberg on the right wing.
Olentangy led the rest of the half and took a 21-18 lead into the locker room.
“The ball didn’t move as well as it normally does, we didn’t shoot as well as we normally do and then we made some mental errors down the stretch that we normally don’t make,” Olentangy coach Chris Kelly said. “So, that’s disappointing because I think we’re more than capable of winning that game.”
It took a while for both teams to get going in the second half. A pair of Christian Mazzeo free throws with 4:31 left in the third were the first points scored by either team.
“Give Orange credit defensively, they got after it,” Kelly said. “But, I think it was more us not moving the ball the way we normally move it — dribbling too much. I think we’re the best passing team in Central Ohio, I really do. We move the ball better than anyone, and tonight was not close to our best.”
Carter Kinnaird scored Olentangy’s first six points and finished with a team-high 12. His offensive rebound and put-back with 1:01 left gave Olentangy a 47-46 lead and his five rebounds led the team.
“We feel like we’ve got a lot of capable players that work hard year round,” Kelly said. “They’ve played a lot better in the preseason and our first two games than I felt like we played tonight. So, that’s the disappointing part.”
O’Neal scored 11 points and had three assists and two of Olentangy’s 10 steals. Sieve led the team with three steals.
“We played pretty great defense overall,” Kelly said. “We created a lot of turnovers and gave ourselves plenty of opportunities to score a lot of points. Unfortunately, we didn’t play offense the way we normally do.”
Orange has now won two straight in the rivalry, giving the Pioneers a 6-5 advantage overall after Olentangy had won the previous four. The last three Pioneer victories in the series have been by four points combined.
The Pioneers are right back at it tonight when they host Hilliard Davidson in non-league play.
Olentangy has a week to get ready for New Albany.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.