COLUMBUS – The state semifinals match up between Lakewood St. Edward and Cincinnati St. Xavier was a tale of two halves.
The first half belonged to St. Xavier but the second half – and the game – belonged to St. Edward.
Despite holding a 10-point lead at halftime, St. Xavier couldn’t hold on at the 86th Annual State Boys Basketball Tournament as St. Edward outscored the Bombers 43-24 after the break to advance to Saturday’s state championship game with a 68-59 win in front of 12,391 fans at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center.
“We just kept looking in each other’s eyes knowing that we were going to do it,” St. Edward head coach Eric Flannery said. “It’s all about having that confidence, that faith in each other and that belief that no matter who your opponent that we’re going to win the game.”
St. Edward (22-4) had four players score in double digits led by first team All-Ohio selection and Indiana recruit Tom Pritchard with 26 points and 14 rebounds in the post.
He scored 11 points in the first half and 15 points in the second half as the Eagles came out after halftime more aggressive and playing with more intensity than the first half.
“Our whole team, pretty much, in the first half was a little sluggish,” Pritchard said. “When we came out in the third quarter, everybody started playing defense and it just built energy, which helped us on offense.”
Senior guard Frankie Dobbs added 16 points while senior forward Conor Tilow netted 15 points and pulled down four boards and senior guard Mike Harnett had 11 points.
No. 4 ranked St. Xavier (23-3) shot an astounding 66.7 percent in the first half sinking 14-of-21 attempts from the floor
The Bombers led 35-25 at halftime but shot a dismal 9-of-30 from the floor in the second half.
Unranked St. Edward went on a 13-0 run in the third quarter and outscored St. Xavier 18-7 in the third frame.
“In the first half we played passive, we played tentative and we played like we were afraid to lose the game again,” said Flannery. “In the second half we came out with nothing to lose. The guys shot the ball with confidence and defensively, we started to get into (St. Xavier) a little bit.”
The Eagles shot 70 percent in the second half shooting 14-of-20 on field goal attempts.
“We ran into an offensive juggernaut there in the second half,” St. Xavier head coach Scott Martin said. “On the offensive end, we got a ton of good looks; we just didn’t put the ball in the basket. We took care of the ball and we got good looks the ball just didn’t fall in the second half for us.”
Senior forward Walt Gibler paced the Bombers with 24 points and senior guard Brad Loesing tallied 17 points.
Senior guard Ryan Shiverdecker had nine points.
“It hurts right now but it is a huge accomplishment for this group of guys (to reach the state semifinals two straight years),” Gibler said. “So, it says a lot about our senior class and our leadership how dedicated we were to playing team ball.
“We were right there in the game and missed some easier shots and turned (St. Edward’s) way.”
With 6-foot-9 Pritchard and 6-foot-6 Tilow in the paint, St. Edward out-rebounded St. Xavier 34-21, respectively.
“Pritchard is a force in there and he definitely caused some problems,” Martin said.
“What they did better on the defensive end was they rebounded the ball better. When you miss a lot of shots, you give them more opportunities to rebound and when you don’t miss any (shots), we don’t get as many opportunities. The key for them was they only gave us the one shot.”
Pritchard picked up his fourth foul with 3:37 left in the game with St. Edward clinging onto a 54-48 lead.
“Obviously, with four fouls and some time left you have to give up a little but I was still just trying to stay straight up and not get any fouls to keep myself in the game,” Pritchard said.
St. Edward was in the state Final Four last year but lost the Cincinnati Moeller 67-60 in the semifinals for its only loss of the season.
“Last year, Moeller punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond,” said Flannery. “This year, Xavier was punching us in the mouth in the first half and we weren’t responding. We needed to start fighting back and I really think our guys took that attitude in the second half.
“The quote that kept coming back to me was, ‘Don’t let (St. Xavier) get comfortable’,” he added. “If they’re comfortable in the half court, they’ll pick you apart. We let them get comfortable in the first half and in the second half we just chose to get up into them and not make them as comfortable.”
St. Xavier lost to Moeller in last season’s Division I state championship 43-40.
The Eagles are in the hunt for their second state title in school history as they will battle the winner of the Toledo Whitmer-Newark game Saturday, March 15 at 8:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.
St. Edward last hoisted the championship trophy in 1998.
THE ROE FACTOR
Of course, St. Edward has been without Michigan State recruit Delvon Roe all year after he suffered a knee injured in the season opener against North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall.
But Roe, who was on the bench sporting a shirt and tie during the state semifinal game, has made an impact on his team regardless of not playing this season.
“Delvon is why we’re here,” said Flannery. “He made us the last few years who we were and was a big part of it. The attitude that Delvon has kept during his injury has been nothing but supportive and positive for his teammates. I think if he turned his back on these guys it would have been different but Delvon has been nothing but supportive.”
St. Xavier was attempting to become just the fourth team to win the state football and basketball championships in the same year joining Marion Pleasant (1972-73), St. Henry (1990-91) and Cleveland Benedictine (1996-97).