COLUMBUS - Top-ranked Liberty-Benton's dream of a perfect season and a state boys basketball championship fell one game short yesterday as unranked Cincinnati North College Hill captured its third straight Division III crown by a 50-45 count at Value City Arena.
The Eagles (26-1), who got 26 points from D-III co-player of the year Nathan Hyde in the loss, took their final lead of the game at 41-40 on two Hyde free throws with 3:21 remaining.
But the Trojans (17-7) outscored L-B 10-4 down the stretch, including a 6-of-8 effort at the foul line in the final two minutes to seal the victory.
"We had stretches during the game where we played out of character," veteran Eagles coach Steve Williman said. "We got playing too fast, and we made some poor decisions.
"But give North College Hill credit on a lot of that. They forced the tempo and they forced us to play fast at times, and that got us out of sync offensively."
For North College Hill, the title came without the added glitz of its two nationally regarded marquee players of the previous two seasons - O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker.
Mayo transferred back to his native Huntington, W. Va. for his senior season. Walker, also listed as a junior last year, was ruled ineligible to compete for another year by the Ohio High
School Athletic Association last summer, and moved on to Kansas State University.
What the Trojans do have left - most notably junior third-year starting point guard Damon Butler (20 points) - proved good enough to make North College Hill only the third team in Ohio boys basketball history, in any division, to capture three state titles in a row.
"It shows that we still have good talent here," Trojans' coach Jamie Mahaffey said. "We were out to prove something to ourselves."
Hindering Liberty-Benton's chances at duplicating its
27-0 state championship season from 1995 (in D-IV, also under Williman) was a miserable third quarter.
Ahead 29-24 at halftime, the Eagles were outscored 9-1 in the third period, part of an overall stretch of 10:22 (bridging the second and fourth quarters) in which the Eagles went without a field goal.
"In that third quarter we were out of sync and we were not playing the way we needed to play," Williman said.
After Hyde hit an 18-footer jumper to give L-B a 29-20 lead 2:12 before halftime, the Eagles' next bucket didn't come until Hyde's driving layup 10 seconds in the the fourth quarter.
Before that drought ended, NCH had taken a 33-30 lead to the final period on the strength of a 13-1 run, including seven points from 6-4 junior forward Alfonso McPherson (12 points and six rebounds).
The Eagles' only point of the third quarter came 17 seconds in when Hyde hit the second of two free throws.
"They were very quick and they got in passing lanes and put great ball pressure on us," Hyde said. "They got us out of the flow a little bit. Our timing was off, and we didn't take advantage of some of the opportunities we had."
The one-point period matched an all-division state title-game record low since quarter-by-quarter records were kept beginning in 1950. It was the lowest ever in a D-III final.
"The first half we didn't play our game," Mahaffey said. "We didn't take care of the ball, we rushed shots and we were out of sync. The second half we regrouped, stayed together as a family and we executed.
"The third quarter has always been our weaker quarter all year. To hold that team to one point in the third quarter is pretty good."
Despite the troublesome third quarter - in which L-B committed an uncharacteristic six turnovers and was called for six fouls to one for NCH - the Eagles were still well within range of gaining a win.
A T.J. Recker 3-pointer 1:16 into the final quarter put L-B back ahead 35-34, and the Eagles would retake leads twice more before fading late.38.85819 71.26218