Africentric advances to third straight Division IV state championship


Africentric’s Ashar Harris scored a team-high 15 points in the Nubians win over Crestview. (Photo by Gary Housteau)

The score was right where Convoy Crestview wanted it. The outcome, however, wasn’t. In a rematch of last year’s Division IV state semifinal, Columbus Africentric earned its third straight berth in the D-IV state championship Thursday with a 39-33 win over Crestview in the opening game of the state tournament at OSU’s Schottenstein Center. 

COLUMBUS The score was right where Convoy Crestview wanted it. The outcome, however, wasn’t.

In a rematch of last year’s Division IV state semifinal between Crestview and Columbus Africentric, Africentric advanced to it’s third straight D-IV state championship with a 39-33 win Thursday in the opening game of the 34th annual Ohio High School Girls Basketball State Tournament at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.

Crestview took its first – and only – lead of the game, 26-25, with 2:04 left. The Nubians responded with 12 of 14 free throw shooting in the final 1:20 to advance.

Africentric won last year’s semifinal meeting 47-42.

Crestview, which entered the tournament as the top defensive team regardless of division by allowing just 25.2 points per game, finishes the season 25-1. The Knights were ranked No. 1 in the final AP state poll.

Africentric, the tournament’s top offensive team (78.1 ppg), fell 39 points shy of its average but won. The Nubians (22-4) were No. 4 in the final state poll.

“I knew it was going to be that type of game,” Africentric head coach Will McKinney said. “I knew we were going to have to grind it out. It was a test to see how good we are as a program, because Crestview is No. 1 in the state for a reason. Today we gave them everything we had and they shot it right back at us. Fortunately we were able to hit some free throws at the end.”

Said Crestview head coach Greg Rickard: “We just got off to a slow start offensively in the first half. We scored 11 points and didn’t shoot the ball well. If we would have shot better it would have made it a little easier for us in the second half instead of having to try to dig out of a hole. Defensively I thought we played pretty well overall.”

The score after the first quarter was 5-5 and Africentric held a 15-11 lead at halftime.

The Knights started off slow offensively, missing four shots and turning the ball over once in the first five possessions. Things never got much better for Crestview in the first 16 minutes as they shot just 28-percent from the field (4-of-14), went 0-for-6 from 3-point range and had nine turnovers.

Africentric didn’t perform much better, but senior standout Ashar Harris kept them afloat. The Morehead State recruit scored eight of her team-high 15 points in the first half to help the Nubians establish their cushion.

Africentric led 25-19 at the end of the third.

In the fourth, Crestview rallied behind senior Melissa Eickholt. Eickholt, who went to the bench with her fourth foul in the waning moments of the third, scored 12 of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter. Her basket with 2:04 left capped a 7-0 run by the Knights and their senior that gave them a one-point lead.

Eickholt is no stranger to the state scene, having played in five state tournaments (three softball, two basketball). She’s headed to Mount Vernon Nazarene College.

“(Melissa’s) effort in the fourth quarter, especially offensively was huge,” Rickard said. “We always talk about seniors stepping up and performing in big games and she was able to do that.”

Eighteen seconds after Eickholt’s basket, Africentric sophomore Raven Fergusen scored to give the Nubians the lead for good.

Down the stretch, costly turnovers and missed shots did in the Knights. Africentric, which shot a pedestrian 67-percent from the free throw line coming into the game, hit 79-percent of its foul shots (19-of-24) to create separation. Senior Shardai Morrison-Fountain, a Marshall recruit, was exceptionally strong down the stretch hitting 8-of-10 in the final minute. She finished with 11 points. McKinney said it was arguably his team’s best free throw shooting performance of the season.

The Knights were 9-of-11 from the free throw line.

Said Harris: “We knew we had to finish those last two minutes hard.”

As a team, Africentric shot a miserable 32-percent from the field. The Nubians did however protect the ball, turning it over just eight times.

Crestview shot 37-percent from the floor, but made just 2-of-10 3s and turned it over 16 times.

The Knights got no favors from the referees who whistled them for 19 fouls. Africentric was called for eight. The Crestview faithful voiced their displeasure several times.

Hoping to win their first title in their fourth trip to state, the Knights fell to 0-4 in state semifinals. Africentric, despite being just a six-year old school, improved to 3-0.

The Nubians, who have five district titles, three regional titles and four Columbus City League titles in their brief history, play for their second state title Saturday at 10:45 a.m. against Berlin Hiland, a 73-42 winner over Carey in the second semifinal.

Hiland beat Africentric 44-37 in last year’s state final.

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