After logging 15 points and 10 rebounds in the first half of the nightcap of the National City Classic, Canal Winchester senior center B.J. Mullens managed just one point thereafter. Still, his team, a rising power in Division II, was still in position for an eye-opening victory heading to the final seconds of the game.
That’s when cat-quick Withrow guard Anthony McBride zipped to the middle of the lane with his team trailing by a point, flipped up a left-handed scoop attempt, and somehow got enough paw on the carom to trickle it into the basket just before the buzzer.
The result was a 58-57 win before an enthused Saturday night crowd at Ohio State’s Value City Arena in Columbus, the site of the National City Classic.
Withrow improved to 10-2 on the season as 6-9 power forward Yancy Gates outscored Mullens 25 to 16 and won the war by one points.
“We both really just wanted to go out and play hard,” said Gates, who is signed to play next year at the University of Cincinnati. “We were not focusing on what each other was doing. We wanted to play hard and get a win for our team.
“It’s fun to get a chance to go at him. We have gone up against each other in practice and played against each other. But it was not for anything important. We would laugh and giggle. But tonight with this game being on the line, it made it fun. It was a great experience.”
Added Mullens, “We’ve been together since eighth grade and last year over the summer we would practice against each other. My sophomore year I played against him when I was over at Harvest Prep. It’s good to play against a guy like him because it’s going to make me better and I’m going to make him better.”
The matchup of in-state big men was one of the most anticipated in recent memory, especially with Mullens played at Ohio State, where he will be in scarlet in gray next year with Thad Matta’s Buckeyes.;
Gates was 11 of 27 from the field as the 7-1 Mullens altered several of his attempts with his tree-like wingspan.Gates canned a three and added 12 rebounds and a pair of assists.
Mullens was 5 of 12 from the field and 6 of 7 at the free-throw line to record his 16 points. Amazingly, though, the Indians (10-2) went possession after possession in the second half without waiting for the big man to get position or bothering to try to find an angle for an entry pass.
“I thought he had some decent looks there in the third quarter, he just didn’t put a couple in,” Canal coach Kent Riggs said. “There were a couple offensive rebounds he didn’t put back in. I’m not sure how many touches he got. Their pressure kind of took the passing lane out of the game a little bit. It would have been nice to get him a few more.”
Mullens was 0 for 3 in the second half. When asked how he could go an entire half without a field goal he said, “I’m not really sure. I know they pressured our guards a lot more and I had some open looks. That’s something we can learn from too – our guards getting stronger and getting open to pass the ball.”
Gates said it for Mullens.
“I think that was more his guards not getting him the ball,” he said. Our guards picked up the pressure. It made it harder for him to get the ball.”
Mullens was still a defensive force throughout. He yanked down 19 rebounds, eight offensive and also logged two blocked shots.
One more board or rejection, though, would have made all the difference.
“It’s January and we play in games like that to have experience,” Riggs said. “I told our guys coming up here, `We’re going to have some bad stretches. It’s how we’re going to handle those stretches.’ I thought our kids did well. They came out and hit about every shot in the first quarter and they kept fighting. If we could have got just one more rebound we would have won the ballgame. But give them credit. He was right up over the rim.”
Withrow, which stormed out to a 10-2 lead at the outset, trailed by eight twice in the third quarter but rallied to tie the score at 49 when Gates hit a high-arc, 15-foot jumper over Mullens with 5:12 left to play. On the Tigers’ next possession, guard Troy Long nailed a three to make it 52-49 in favor of the out-of-towners.
CW guard Remon Nelson, who led the Indians with 21 points, tied the score with a three of his own and the contest was nip and tuck from there. Mullens sole second-half point came with 1:23 to go when he split a pair of free throws to put Canal up 56-54.
Gates tied the score at 56 with 45 seconds to go with a basket, but Nelson drew a foul with 23.8 left on the clock and also made 1 of 2 at the charity stripe.
“With their quickness we didn’t think we could hold it, to be honest with you,” Riggs said. “If we would have gotten it down to 15 we would have tried to keep it. I thought as aggressive as they were on the ball we were going to get a foul call and we did.”
However, Nelson’s go-ahead free throw set up the winning play by McBride.
“I saw Anthony driving,” Mullens said. “I saw him miss. It turned around and he just tipped it back in. That was it. Our guard just dropped the ball but you can’t hold it against him.”
Mullens’ three-point play just before halftime seemed to tilt matters in Canal’s favor. He made a nimble move along the baseline and hit the reverse layup while drawing the second foul on Gates with 33 seconds left in the half. His free throw tied the score at 32.
After a steal on the other end, guard Remon Nelson, a former teammate of Mullens at Columbus World Harvest Prep, was fouled while launching a three with four seconds left. He hit all three freebies to provide a 35-32 halftime lead.
Canal fed off the halftime momentum by building up the lead in the third quarter while the Tigers looked stagnant offensively. However, in earning a 47-40 lead at the end of the period, the Indians missed a couple chances to have firmer control and rarely even looked to feed the ball inside to Mullens.
They also turned the ball over in the final seconds of the period, setting up a layup by Ryan Maupin at the buzzer.
“We thought we could get two possessions there because we had the ball at the beginning of the fourth and we got nothing out of either possession,” Riggs lamented. “I knew we were in for a long fourth quarter when that happened.”
Mullens threw his arms out in disgust when the winning basket fell through but was able to put some perspective on the loss afterward.
“Somebody had to lose for someone to win,” he said. “They’re one of the top teams in the history of high school. They’re Division I and they’re favored to win states. They went pretty far last year. This is just going to make us better. We’re Division II. It’s just going to make us better. It’s just a loss and we’ll learn from it and come back stronger.
“It’s a good loss. It’s not like we lost to some D-IV team or some unheard-of school.”
Mullens has played several pickup games with current Buckeyes on the VCA floor and will spend his college career calling it home. But he’s hoping to get back one more time as a prepster in the state tournament.
“We’ll definitely be here back in March,” he said. “I’ll make sure of that. I’m going to make my teammates better, I’m going to watch some film of this game and I’m going to get better.”