Moeller's Charlie Byers scored 17 points to help lead the Crusaders to Saturday's Division I state final. (Photo By Gary Housteau)
COLUMBUS - Friday night’s Division I semifinal showcasing Cincinnati Moeller and Mentor was a classic, as in instant classic. It was a game neither team deserved to lose, but in tournament play one will move on while the other departs. Chalk this one up to the Crusaders.
When it comes to tournament basketball featuring a close game and Moeller is involved more often than not the Crusaders are going to find a way to win. Someone always makes a play. Friday night was no different.
Big Moe’ was clinging to a two-point lead (61-59) in overtime when the Crusaders Charlie Byers missed the back-end of a one-and-bonus, but junior Alex Barlow wiggled his way into position snaring the rebound. Barlow quickly put the shot back up and good and drew a foul. Barlow calmly sank the freebie and Mentor’s hopes for a state championship.
Mentor’s Cole Krizancic would miss an ensuing three-point try and Barlow secured the rebound. The 5-foot-11 junior once again hit nothing but net on his two charity throws ensuring Moeller of a 66-59 triumph and a trip to Saturday night’s Division I state championship game.
“Wow, they had us off balance all night,” a relieved Moeller head coach Carl Kremer said. “We have complete respect for the Mentor basketball program. That is a very good basketball team. We never really got in rhythm, but were able to get enough stops when we needed them. They are well coached, they have kids with high basketball IQs and they have tough kids who don’t quit.”
Kremer watched as his Crusaders played to a 7-all tie at the end of the 1st quarter, but seven was not the magic number for Moeller in the 2nd period.
Mentor knocked down just one trey in the opening eight minutes, but quickly heated up in the second drilling a uncanny seven three-point goals in the 2nd headlined by senior Jaron Crowe’s four long-range bombs.
Mentor used the hot shooting to take a 30-22 lead into the dressing room. The Cardinals took 22 shots in the opening half with 20 coming behind the arc. Crowe led the way with 12 points and Krizancic added nine. Five Mentor plays dropped long-range buckets in the half.
The Crusaders tried their best to get back in the game in the 3rd stanza. After a Justin Fritts three-pointer gave Mentor a 38-34 advantage, Moeller’s Charlie Byers and Barlow followed with back-to-back buckets knotting the score at 38 with 1:15 remaining in the quarter. Byers followed with a basketball and foul completing the three-point play.
Though, Crowe would answer right back with yet another three bringing the game back to even at 41. Moeller then scored the next four Crowe answered with a two-pointer and his sixth three-point goal to give the Cardinal a 46-45 lead.
Moeller senior Josh Morelock stepped up to the challenge as the 6-footer canned a bonus goal, but Krizancic followed with a tying basket. Morelock didn’t wait long and busted another long-range ball. Fritts then scored on a drive-in basket proceeding two Barlow free tosses. Crowe hit his seventh and final three with 2:16 remaining in the game, which happened to be the last basket of regulation.
Mentor stalled the ball for the final 1:41 seconds after a Moeller turnover, but was unable to get a good look as time ran out.
Mighty Moe’ outscored the Cardinals 13-6 in the extra session.
The Crusaders (22-4) got a team-high 21 points from Barlow on 6-of-7 shooting and a 9-of-10 performance at the free-throw line. He also added six rebounds including the biggest one of his career.
Morelock was good for 17 on 5-of-6 shooting from distance and Byers added a like amount on 7-of-11 shooting. For the game, Moeller shot 56 percent from the floor.
“Field goal percentage is directly linked to good shot selection,” Kremer noted. “Our guys know what they do well, and we won’t take bad shots.”
For Mentor (23-4), Crowe led the way with 28 points on a Division I semi-final record seven three-point goals on just 14 attempts.
Krizancic was held in check for the most scoring just 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
“We had to work for all our shots,” Mentor boss Bob Krizancic said.
The younger Krizancic had high praise for the Moeller defense.
“That was the best defensive team we played all year,” said Cole Krizancic. “Barlow was the best defender I’ve play against this year. My shot wasn’t falling, but he did a real good job.”
Sophomore Justin Fritts tallied 12 points and senior Cameron Aloisio added 10 rebounds.
For the Cardinals, it was an amazing run for a team that could have been confused with the one featuring Jimmy Chitwood in “Hoosiers.”
“I have coached almost 700 games, but this is the toughest loss I’ve ever had,” Krizancic declared. “It is hurts so bad, because these are such great kids. Jaron (Crowe) was at my house every weekend for like four year in a row. I tell the kids if it hurt that bad it meant that much.”
The 12 threes made by Mentor was a D-1 semis record along with tying a D-1 state tournament record for all games. The 18 triples made combine for both teams was a D-1 tournament record.