Africentric storms back, beats Berlin Hiland for D-IV state championship


Columbus Africentric celebrates its D-IV state championship. (Photo by Gary Housteau)

Columbus Africentric and Berlin Hiland have staged some good games over the years. Saturday they put on a great one. Africentric rallied from a 16-point third quarter deficit to beat Hiland 55-46 in a rematch of last year’s championship game. It’s the Nubians second state title in three years.

COLUMBUS – Berlin Hiland and Columbus Africentric have an extensive postseason history against one another. Saturday they staged another classic.

Meeting for the fifth straight time in the postseason and the second straight time in the state championship, Africentric capped a furious comeback from a 16-point third quarter deficit to win its second state title 55-46 over Hiland in the Division IV state championship at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.

Hiland beat Africentric 44-37 in last year’s state championship and also ousted the Nubians from the tournament in 2005 (regional semifinal) and 2006 (regional final).

Africentric beat the Hawks in the 2007 regional final en route to its first title.

“We knew Berlin Hiland wasn’t going to lie down,” Africentric head coach Will McKinney said. “You have to beat them. They’re not going to give up because we made a run. It was a situation where we had to continue to play. When we match up with Berlin Hiland it’s all about who is going to make the big plays. Last year Jenna Stutzman made a lot of big plays. This year we were fortunate enough to make them. That’s the way it’s always going to be when we face each other. It’s just going to boil down to which team makes more big plays.”

Hiland made all the plays in the first half. The Hawks led 26-11 at halftime.

Africentric, which entered the state tournament averaging 78.1 points per game, shot just 17-percent from the floor in the first 16 minutes, and coupled with its state semifinal win over Convoy Crestview, generated just 50 points in six quarters of state play.

Then the second half started.

 “I felt like at halftime we had a game that was kind of picture-perfect for us,” Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach said. “We kept them out of the paint, made them shoot perimeter jumpers, we rebounded the basketball, they couldn’t press and we executed some things at our end. It was pretty much just the opposite in the second half.”

“As a coach I didn’t want to come in at the half and seem too rattled and overly concerned with the scoreboard,” McKinney said. “I just wanted to convey to them that we had 16 more minutes of basketball left and that if they turned the defensive pressure up things would change for us.”

It did.

After Hiland took its largest lead of the game, 36-20, with 3:55 left in the third quarter, Africentric owned the Hawks. The Nubians closed the quarter with a 15-4 run to draw within 40-35 and never let up. Hiland scored its final basket with 6:55 left in the game to take a 46-37 lead. The Nubians then closed with an 18-0 run.

Defense, including full-court pressure, was Africentric’s catalyst. The Nubians forced 10 second half turnovers and held the Hawks to 25-percent shooting from the floor (6-of-24) en route to outscoring Hiland 44-20 in the 16 minutes.

For once, Hiland had no answer.

“The third quarter we came out aggressively with man-to-man,” McKinney said. “We knew to be successful we had to give Berlin Hiland some different looks. In the first half we did a lot of 1-3-1 zone and showed diamond but we really weren’t trapping and we fell back into a 1-2-2. In the second half we started trapping with the diamond and showed them some 2-1-1 stuff and face-guarded them with some man-to-man. Just me saying all that you see all the things they had to make adjustments to. And we didn’t just cause turnovers. We got points out of those turnovers.”

“In the first half we played with a little more patience and poise,” Schlabach said. “But he changed up (in the second half) and went to more in your face pressure and it really had us on our heels. We’ve seen that type of pressure this year and we’re capable of handling it. On this particular afternoon, though, we didn’t do a very good job of it.”

Africentric was led by senior forward Ashar Harris who set a D-IV title game record with 16 rebounds, including 10 offensive. She also scored 14 points and had three steals. Harris’s contribution led to a decisively one-sided rebounding margin for the Nubians as well. After being outrebounded 20-17 in the first half, Africentric outrebounded the Hawks 27-11 in the second.

“We felt Harris was the best rebounder in the state,” Schlabach said. “She was a difficult match-up.”

Harris, who is headed to Morehead State, was banged up a couple times battling for rebounds but refused to come out of the game despite being in obvious pain.

“I listened to my teammate Raven (Ferguson) when I was banged up and she said ‘Do you want to win or do you want to go sit on the bench,’” Harris said. “I couldn’t go out as a senior. I had to stay on the court regardless of how bad it hurt.”

Ferguson, one of the country’s top sophomores, scored a game-high 17 points for the Nubians and had six boards and three assists. Senior point guard Shadri Morrison-Fountain (Marshall recruit) added 13 points and four boards.

Senior Karli Mast (11 points) and junior Mykeila Mast (10 points) paced the Hawks who were attempting to win their fourth title in five years and fifth overall. Surprisingly the D-IV state player of the year – junior Hilary Weaver, who shared the honor with Harris – was held scoreless. She did contribute five assists and three rebounds before fouling out.

Hiland faithful shouldn’t fret though. The Hawks lose only one senior from a squad that started four juniors and played four freshmen.

“Because we’ve had some success this year, you really forget how many young kids we’re playing and the five seniors we lost (from last year’s team),” Schlabach said. “(Africentric was) extremely motivated to be playing us again, though. They came in with that fire to get one back. They were relentless.”

Said Ferguson: “The second half was just about defense. We got steals. We got baskets.”


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