COLUMBUS — The Cinderella ride for Rogers through the state boys basketball tournament has now gone the distance.
The unranked Rams (21-7) — inspired by their failure to defend their City League championship last month — continued their unlikely string of upsets.
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This time, Rogers rallied to outscore third-ranked Cincinnati Walnut Hills 21-12 in the fourth quarter, and took a 58-51 victory in a Division I state semifinal Friday night at the Schottenstein Center.
“A [Toledo] Public School team hasn’t been to a Division I final in 23 years, and it’s something where you’ve got the whole city of Toledo on your shoulders,” Rogers coach Earl Morris said. “These kids have given me everything. I’ve hollered at them, and I’ve said some things to them that I ordinarily wouldn’t say. But, they respond. You’ve got to have faith in your kids.”
Toledo’s last boys state champion was Scott in 1990, one year after Macomber captured the title. Toledo teams have reached five state finals since then, including Whitmer last season, and have been denied the crown each time.
Rams guard Tony Kynard II led Rogers with 25 points, and fellow senior backcourt standout Clemmye Owens V shook off 29 sub-par minutes to tally seven of his 10 points in the game's final 2:34 to lift the Rams to victory.
“I saw that Clemmye wasn’t hot, and [DeVonte] Pratt wasn’t scoring as much, so I just had to step up and be a leader,” Kynard said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get the win.
“I think it was the lucky socks. I lost my lucky socks during the week. And [Owens’ mother] just brought them down here before the game. I threw a 50-dollar bill in them and I played like big money tonight.”
Rogers will face eighth-ranked Mentor (24-5) in today's 8:30 p.m. state championship game. Mentor advanced by upsetting top-ranked, previously unbeaten Columbus Northland 80-69 in the other semifinal.
Pivotal in Rogers’ win, outside of the dazzling individual effort of Kynard (11 of 23 shooting), was the combined defensive effort against Isaiah Johnson, the Eagles’ 6-foot-9, 270-pound, All-Ohio post player.
Johnson did manage to score 17 points and grab 11 rebounds, but hit just 6 of 19 shots from the field while being harassed throughout by 6-7 Fadil Robinson, 6-4 Tribune Dailey, 5-11 sub Keandre Gilmer, and, occasionally, 6-1 guard DeVonte Pratt.
Walnut Hills (27-2), which had not lost to an Ohio team all season, was paced in defeat by 6-5 senior guard-forward Dontonio (D.J.) Wingfield Jr., who scored 20 points and picked up nine rebounds.
Rogers trailed 43-38 with 6:40 remaining following a thunderous two-hand dunk by Johnson to finish an Eagles’ break, but the Rams answered immediately when Dailey threw down an equally impressive two-handed slam just 11 seconds later.
That was the start of a game-closing 20-8 surge by the Rams, who have not lost since closing the regular season with a disappointing 54-53 upset loss to Start in the City League playoff semifinals.
Kynard followed with a steal and layup and then, after Eagles guard David Irby missed the front end of a bonus opportunity at the line, he nailed a 15-footer from the left wing to put Rogers ahead 44-43 with 4:51 left.
“[Kynard] carried us all the way through until the other guards woke up,” Morris said. “He kept us in the game. He doesn’t normally shoot that much, but sometimes you’ve got to be a little selfish.”
Walnut Hills then made its last effective run, hitting five of six free throws over the next 1:49 to go up 48-44 with 3:02 to play.
That’s when Owens finally emerged from his doldrums. After hitting just one of his first 10 shots from the field, the 6-0 guard hit a clutch 3-pointer with 2:34 left to get the Rams within a point.
After the Eagles scored to take a 50-47 lead, Dailey scored off a feed from Kynard, and Pratt hit one of two free throws to tie the game with 1:50 to play.
Pratt then hit an off-balance, one-handed prayer of a shot from 15 feet from the right side, and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but Rogers owned a 52-50 lead, and Pratt’s bucket ultimately proved to be the game-winning points.
“I just knew it was going in,” Pratt said of the game’s most crucial shot.
Owens iced the win by going 4-for-4 at the line in the final 43 seconds, and Dailey put an exclamation point on the Rams’ latest upset win with a dunk off a lob from Owens just before the final buzzer.
“I’m just happy for the city of Toledo and Toledo Public Schools, and all the people that came down here and supported us,” Morris said. “Most of all, I’m happy for these kids.”
During its tournament run, Rogers has knocked off three state-ranked teams, having beaten fifth-ranked St. John’s Jesuit (66-55) and ninth-ranked Central Catholic (60-39) in district play.
“Rogers handled the adversity in the game,” Walnut Hills coach Ricardo Hill said. “There were some tense moments where the ball could have went either way, and it went their way to tonight.
“They’re a great team and they’re on super hot streak. They’ve beaten some great teams in this tournament. They hit some shots that, normally against us, teams don’t hit. Tonight they went in for them, so give them all the credit.”
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.