COLUMBUS — The Rogers Rams’ improbable state basketball tournament ride to the Division I championship game was derailed Saturday night by a nightmarish third quarter in which eighth-ranked Mentor could do no wrong.
Down three at halftime, the Cardinals came out of the break with a flurry before winning 76-67 in front of a Schottenstein Center crowd of 9,566. They outscored the unranked Rams 29-9 in the third quarter.
Caleb Potter led Mentor (26-4) with 24 points, and Jeff Foreman added 19 for the Cardinals, who won their first state championship.
Rogers (21-8) was paced by DeVonte Pratt’s 23 points, Clemmye Owens had 12, and Fadil Robinson added 10 points in the game that ended the Rams’ seven-game tourney winning streak.
“There were some things we weren’t supposed to do,” Rams coach Earl Morris said. “We took bad shots, and we didn’t rebound. We made a run in the fourth quarter, but you’ve got to play all four quarters when you’re playing a good team.
“We just let them get away. We stopped doing the things that we did [to get lead]. That’s what happened when we lost games during the year. We always had the one bad quarter that cost us, and it happened today with the third quarter.”
Mentor got the jump on Rogers by pressing and attacking the offensive boards to spur a game-breaking 21-4 run over the first 4 minutes, 56 seconds of the third quarter.
When Potter bounced in a 3-pointer from the right wing with 3:04 left in that quarter, the Cardinals owned a 55-41 lead.
“We’ve been successful for years making that [kind of] run,” Mentor coach Bob Krizancic said. “I thought when we went into the press, if we could get it going up and down and knock down a few shots we could do that.
“We came into this game with a lot of confidence and, when we started knocking down shots. I don’t think you’re going to beat us because of the mentality we had. We wanted to win every single possession, and [in third quarter] I think we did.”
Rams backup forward Keandre Gilmer (six points, six rebounds) finally ended that crucial surge with a layup with 2:54 left in the third quarter, but the damage had been done.
“They were just hitting shots, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it,” Owens said. “We just played our hardest and wanted to give it all on the court. We didn’t give up.
“They’re a very good team, so we didn’t get big-headed at all [at halftime]. We wanted to come out and make it a bigger lead, but they jumped on us early.”
Down 63-46 entering the fourth quarter, Rogers refused to roll over and used an 11-2 run to pull within 65-57 on a 15-footer from Tony Kynard. But that was as close as the Rams got down the stretch.
Kynard, whose 25 points led Rogers to its 58-51 upset of Cincinnati Walnut Hills in Friday’s semifinal, could not get untracked in this game.
His only two first-half points came on free throws 6.9 seconds before halftime, and he did not get his first field goal until eight seconds into the fourth quarter. He finished with eight points before fouling out with 2:36 remaining.
In a fast-paced first half that included 26 attempts from 3-point range by the two teams, Rogers emerged with the lead thanks in large part to the red-hot Pratt.
Coming in averaging 11 points per game, the 6-foot-1 guard already had 12 points with 1:54 still left in the first quarter, and closed the half with 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field, including 3 for 3 on 3-pointers.
The back-and-forth first half saw 12 lead changes.
“It meant a lot until today,” Pratt said of his team’s Cinderella tourney run. “We tried to fight our way back into the game and played hard. But we couldn’t get the lead back after the third quarter.
“They worked harder than us, they outrebounded us, they got loose balls, and they dived on the floor. They were just more aggressive than we were.”
Rogers was 27 of 65 (42 percent) from the field, 8 of 17 (47 percent) at the line, and committed seven turnovers while forcing 11.
“It was a phenomenal season and I love all my guys,” Owens said. “They fought hard, and I’m going to miss them.
Added Pratt: “This was a great experience. Not many people can say they’ve been down here. It just hurts to lose when you get to the final two.”
Mentor was 23 of 60 (38 percent) from the field, including 10 for 27 on 3-pointers, and went 20 of 26 (77 percent) from the line. The Cardinals outrebounded Rogers 47-39, including 20 offensive boards.
Brody Nelson added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Mentor, and Brandon Fritts contributed nine points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
“Within the next two weeks I will make a decision on my future, whether I’m coming back,” Morris said of his coaching status. “I’m 66 years old. I want to see if I want to get up and continue to do this.”
To get to its first state final in school history, Rogers had defeated Waite and Southview in sectional play, upset fifth-ranked St. John’s Jesuit and ninth-ranked Central Catholic at the district level, topped Northern Lakes League champion Anthony Wayne and Brecksville-Broadview Heights in the regionals, and knocked off Walnut Hills (27-2) in Friday’s semifinal.
Toledo’s last boys team to win a state championship was Scott in 1990, one year after Macomber also claimed a state crown. St. Francis de Sales was Toledo’s first boys state champion in 1983.
Since Scott won its title, five Toledo teams had lost in state championship games — St. John’s Jesuit in Division I finals in 1993, 1996, and a 2004; Libbey in D-II in 2008; and Whitmer in D-I last year.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.