Cleveland Central Catholic s Brandon Campbell, left, battles Tinora s Jon Gerken for the ball in Saturday's Division III state championship game in Columbus. The Rams finished 23-4.
Terry Gilliam / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - Tinora's surprising run to the Division III state boys basketball championship game met with an unfavorable finish Saturday.
The unranked Rams overcame a dreadful start but did not have enough firepower down the stretch to topple ninth-ranked Cleveland Central Catholic.
The Ironmen (24-3) used heavy defensive pressure to forge an 11-0 lead after one quarter and later broke things open early in the fourth quarter in taking a 45-38 win before a crowd of 12,041 at Value City Arena.
"I credit Cleveland Central Catholic," Tinora coach Rob Mahnke said. "They played an outstanding game. They pressured us the entire game, and we probably turned the ball over a little more [17 times] than we're used to doing, and that was a big difference in the game."
The scoreless first period for Tinora (23-4), which missed all nine of its shots over the first eight minutes, was the first for any team in any quarter of any championship game since 1931.
"Some of it was that maybe we were a little nerved up, and it took us a while to settle down," Mahnke said. "But, give this team credit. I don't think we could have played any worse than we did in the first quarter, and we battled back and took the lead. We eventually settled down and started playing basketball."
The seemingly irrepressible Rams - who had survived tense finishes in their previous four tourney games, including their 43-38 state semifinal win over Dayton Christian on Thursday - managed to regroup quickly behind subs Gregg Gerken (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Jon Garmyn (eight points).
Gerken's three-point play broke the Rams' drought 26 seconds into the second quarter and was followed 28 seconds later by the first of Garmyn's two 3-pointers in the period.
"We worked really hard to get that 11-0 lead," Cleveland CC coach Kevin Noch said. "I give Tinora credit for coming out in the second quarter and hitting their shots."
Garmyn's second 3-pointer got Tinora within 12-11, and Taylor Wiemken's put-back bucket gave the Rams their first lead at 13-12 with 3:30 left in the half.
Trailing 17-14 at the break, Tinora took its last lead of the game at 18-17 after the last two of Gerken's four straight free throws 36 seconds into the third quarter.
Cleveland CC responded with three inside baskets in a row, two in transition, and eventually took a 31-27 lead to the fourth quarter.
The Rams were still within 33-28 after a Gerken free throw with 6:04 to play, but the Ironmen followed that with a game-breaking 7-0 run.
Chall Montgomery (16 points) ignited that surge with a 3-pointer, and teammates Brandon Campbell (10 points) and Anton Grady added transition layups for a 40-28 lead.
"They're a good team," Grady said of Tinora. "They didn't get here by mistake. We rely on our defense. We feel if the game's close, our defense is going to come through at the end."
The Rams got no closer than five from there.
"They made it tough for our ballhandlers to bring it up the floor and for the most part they were denying our wings and making it hard for us to get into our offensive sets," Mahnke said.
Tinora was 14-of-52 (27 percent) from the field, including just 3-of-22 on 3-pointers. The Rams were 7-of-9 from the line, outrebounded the Ironmen 36-31 and committed 17 turnovers.
"I thought our quickness and a few of our [shot] blocks really made them adjust," Noch said. "It was obvious because they didn't really shoot the ball with confidence."
Cleveland CC was 18-of-42 (43 percent) from the field, 7-of-13 from the line and had 18 turnovers. Derrick Bufford added 10 points for the Ironmen, who won their school's first state title.
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