By Michael Rich
Olentangy used a strong defensive performance to come back from an early 12-point deficit to upset ninth-seeded Hilliard Bradley 64-48 in the second round of the Division I boys basketball district tournament Friday night in Hilliard.
“A lot of people didn’t think we could beat this team,” senior guard Christian Mazzeo said. “As the 27th seed, I thought we were a little misplaced. We have a lot of selfless people on this team and that was the key to winning.”
Olentangy (12-11) held the Jaguars to 11 points over more than 18 minutes from the middle of the second quarter until late in the final frame as it turned a double-digit deficit into an 18-point advantage.
“We played with an incredible amount of discipline even when we got behind,” Olentangy coach Chris Kelly said. “It was no doubt our best defense of the year. Stepping up like that in the second round of the D-I tournament on the road against a great opponent — to come out with that energy and click the way we did — it was a special night for the boys.”
Seth O’Neal led Olentangy with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. Mazzeo had 12 points and five rebounds and Derrick Wyche pitched in 10 points, five blocks and four rebounds.
“We knew what we had to do — we executed, we hit our shots and that was big,” Wyche said. “Our coaches had a great game plan for us and we practiced it all week.”
Austin Luxedor hit two three-pointers off the bench in the opening quarter, including one with 55 seconds left to give Olentangy a 15-9 lead.
Isaiah Speelman (13) and Braden Norris (11) combined to score the first 24 points of the game for Bradley (18-6) as it used a 19-1 run over six minutes to take a 28-16 lead with 2:55 left in the first half.
“I said to my team they’re a great team (Bradley), especially when they’re making shots. So, if they make three or four in a row, we cannot get down, we gotta just keep fighting for four quarters,” Kelly said.
Speelman had 21 points and seven rebounds, both game-highs. Norris was held scoreless the rest of the way and finished with six boards.
“At halftime we said that we needed to get on the defensive boards more because offensive rebounds were pretty much the way they were scoring the majority of their points in the first half,” Wyche said.
Jake Walker found Jason Sieve for a three-pointer to finally end the drought for Olentangy.
O’Neal followed with a three-pointer on the next possession and Olentangy scored the final 10 points of the half to close the gap to 30-29 at the break.
Wyche scored three straight baskets for Olentangy in the third quarter, the first gave his team a 33-32 lead with 4:43 remaining and last sparked an 11-0 run to push the advantage to 46-34 early in the fourth quarter.
“We stayed right in their hip the whole game,” Kelly said. “We’ve lost some tough games this year and we really wanted to prove something … and I think we did.”
Speelman scored on two consecutive possessions for Bradley, but Olentangy ran off 14 of the next 15 points to blow it open. Mazzeo and Sieve each connected on threes during the run as Olentangy led 60-39 — its largest lead of the game. Sieve finished with eight points and three assists.
“We played great defense and the way we passed the ball (on offense), we kept making them play defense, making them play defense, and if we got the shot we really wanted (we took it),” Kelly said. “We played extremely disciplined at both sides of the floor (Friday night).”
Brandon Glenn, Bradley’s first ever 1,000-point scorer, connected on a trio of treys in the final minute and change for the final margin. He finished with 15 points, three rebounds and three assists for the Jaguars.
“We knew that (Glenn and Norris) were their primary shooters, so we did our best to contain them,” Mazzeo said. “We had a great game plan going in.”
Olentangy had nine days between its season-finale (79-59 win over Marysville on Senior Night) and Friday night’s game after a first-round bye.
“That Marysville game really showed us what we could do,” Mazzeo said. “When (we play) like that — move the ball, hit some shots — we’re unbeatable.”
Olentangy will meet 17th-seeded Groveport-Madison in the district semifinal round Thursday night at 7 p.m. at a site to be announced.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.