Central Catholic pounded the boards to seize a lead over Defiance, and the Irish defense came up big at the end of a Division II sectional final last night.
Central ended the first half with an 11-3 run with consistent rebounds to take a 28-20 lead. The Bulldogs pulled within two points early in the fourth quarter but the Irish turned up the heat, forcing seven turnovers to spark an 11-1 spurt.
Central (12-8) knocked Defiance (15-6) out of the playoffs for the second straight year with a 58-44 win last night at Anthony Wayne. Top-seeded Libbey took out huge underdog Bryan 77-53 in the first sectional final.
"We played with poise down the stretch," Central coach Paul Patterson said. "We executed at the end."
Defiance forward Alex Keel, who scored a team-high 13 points, hit back-to-back buckets inside to make it 41-39 with 6:25 left. But a minute later Central senior Cory Lehman, who tallied a game-high 18 points, drilled a trey to make it 46-39.
The Irish forced turnovers on five of the next six possessions for a 52-40 lead.
"Our defense never quit and we pulled it out at the end," Lehman said. "We took care of the ball. We needed that big stop and our defensive pressure was really good."
Central senior Curtis Jewell, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, scored six down the stretch as the Irish ended the game with a 17-5 run.
"I love the pressure. It makes me work harder," Jewell said.
Central forced 19 turnovers and held a 31-24 rebounding edge.
"We got in a little bit of a rush and we forced some things," Defiance coach Kirk Lehman said. "You can't do that against a good team like Central Catholic. But our kids fought back."
At the start, there were seven lead changes and the contest was tied at 17 with 4:12 left in the first half.
But the Irish then took over by dominating the boards.
Central launched an 11-0 run as Jewell and Donte Johnson (eight boards, seven points) pulled down rebounds and the Irish would not trail again. Cory Lehman's steal and subsequent jumper made it 25-17 and Matt Collins drained a 3-pointer for a 28-17 Irish advantage with 36 seconds left.
The Bulldogs' Bryn Lehman, who is Cory's cousin, knocked down a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to make it 28-20 after two quarters. Bryn Lehman finished with 12 points and Jordan Mack had 11 for Defiance.
Libbey (19-2), which was ranked fourth in the final Division IV poll, made easy work of undermanned Bryan (6-16).
Libbey dominated on the boards (32-18) and All-American William Buford poured in 27 points. The Cowboys also forced 26 turnovers and committed only 13 themselves.
"We never underestimate a team," said Buford, who also had eight rebounds and five steals. "We play every team like they're the best we've played. You have to take them one at a time because if you lose one, you're done."
Bryan kept it relatively close by draining nine 3-pointers. Dan Gallagher and Alex Nossaman each had three 3-pointers.
Nossaman paced the Golden Bears with 15 points and Gallagher added 11.
Libbey led by 10 after the first quarter, expanded it to 18 at the half and put it away by outscoring Bryan 25-13 in the third quarter.
"We just wanted to make sure we played together and kept our focus," Libbey coach Leroy Bates said. "We came out with a lot of energy. It was just a matter of executing. We know defense will win a championship."
Cowboy senior forward Julius Wells poured in 18 points. Guard Tony Brown added 10.
"We knew if we were aggressive on defense, the game would come to us," Buford said. "Our offense always feeds off of our hard, aggressive defense."
Buford, who led the City League with 22.9 points per game, hit his third 3-pointer of the game at the buzzer of the third quarter to give his team a 55-28 lead.
Just prior to that, Buford had another slam dunk.
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