last season that sparked the Newark boys basketball team to a 24-2
record. On Friday, Hilliard Darby had a late rally of its own against Newark that it hopes is a sign of bigger things to come. The Panthers came back from a 37-32 deficit in the final six minutes, making heady plays that typify a senior-domiated team en route to a 54-49 win in Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division play.
HILLIARD — It was a late rally in adverse conditions at Hilliard Darby early last season that sparked the Newark boys basketball team to a 24-2 record.
On Friday, Hilliard Darby had a late rally of its own against Newark that it hopes is a sign of bigger things to come.
The Panthers came back from a 37-32 deficit in the final six minutes, making heady plays that typify a senior-dominated team en route to a 54-49 win in Ohio Capital Conference Ohio Division play.
Darby’s (12-2, 6-1) seventh straight win puts them firmly atop the OCC-Ohio and also served notice it can’t be left out in discussion about the top teams in the Central District.
When asked if consecutive wins against Gahanna and Newark (10-4, 4-2) could open some eyes around central Ohio, Darby coach Brett Norris responded with cautious optimism.
“You would think,” Norris said. “When you’ve won seven in a row and you’ve beaten teams as good as Gahanna and Newark, I’d like to think that would help us. Again, I don’t feel like we’re playing as well as we can and that’s a good thing. We just have to keep working.”
Darby’s defense was thoroughly frustrating for a Newark team now in need of help if a second straight OCC-Ohio is in its future.
The Wildcats shot just 25 percent for the game and most opportunities — and several good looks — simply went by the wayside. It shot just 25 percent for the game and just 18 percent in the second half, almost identical to what Darby shot in the teams’ first meeting in December when Newark won 50-36.
This time, however, nothing fell for Newark. After making 14 of its first 15 free throws, it hit just 4-of-8 in the final five minutes and its top four scorers — Greg Avery, Rahlin Watson, Dane Kopp and Cody Dennison — were a combined 10-of-45 from the floor.
“We had good looks and got to the basket, but they didn’t go in,” Newark coach Jeff Quackenbush said. “You’re not going to beat many teams shooting 25 percent.”
Beating a team like Darby under those circumstances was too much on Friday.
But Newark appeared in control after going on a 15-5 run over a six-minute stretch in the second half.
Watson had two free throws to give Newark a 37-32 lead, but Darby made several big plays down the stretch. It scored eight straight and Robbie Anzuini scored five, including a 3-point play to put Darby up 40-37 with 4:54 remaining.
That came in a stretch of nine straight points from the senior, who had 10 in the quarter and 20 for the game.
His layup on a backdoor cut tied it at 42 with 2:58 remaining and his two free throws 40 seconds later gave the Panthers a lead they didn’t relinquish down the stretch.
“Our seniors really made some big plays,” Norris said. “Robbie really came up big late and in these games, I think the mental toughness we showed was big.”
Newark struggled to do much right in the closing minutes. It never got closer than three in the final two minutes and the four late turnovers hurt as well.
“They have eight seniors on their team and that’s what teams with a lot of seniors do — they find ways to win,” Quackenbush said. “I don’t think either team played great, but they had some seniors make some big plays.
“In games like this, you have to find ways to win and we didn’t do that.”
Darby’s Jeremy Ebert added 15 points, including a 3-pointer that started Darby’s finishing run.
It sent the vocal student section into a frenzy and they didn’t let up afterwards, charging the floor with chants of “OCC, OCC.”
Darby hosts Gahanna in the league finale, and Newark, now on a two-game slide and just 3-4 on the road this year, hosts Gahanna next Friday.
“With Newark’s tradition and excellence in their program, they’ve been really tough for us the last couple years,” Norris said. “(The win) puts us in a good position, and now we’ve got a good opportunity.”
Avery finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Watson added 12 points.