Whitmer High School player Nigel Hayes dunks against the Sylvania Southview defense in the second quarter during their Division I District final at Savage Arena on Saturday.
Southview's budding Cinderella run in the Division I state boys basketball tournament met its end Saturday night as the fifth-ranked Whitmer Panthers simply took advantage of their superior size inside and beat the overmatched Cougars 44-24 at Savage Arena.
Whitmer (21-2), the Three Rivers Athletic Conference champion, got a game-high 15 points and 11 rebounds from 6-foot-7, 260-pound University of Michigan-bound football player Chris Wormley.
Nigel Hayes, Whitmer's 6-7 standout junior, had 13 points and nine rebounds, and senior guard LeRoy Alexander added nine points and five boards for the Panthers, who will face 23-0 Northern Ohio League champion Norwalk in a regional semifinal at Savage Arena Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Norwalk advanced by beating Anthony Wayne 52-38 Saturday night at Bowling Green's Stroh Center.
"We knew that we just had to take care of the ball and play smart as a team," Hayes said. "They're a team that can get some points off of turnovers, and when they get their crowd into the game they can be hard to beat.
"So, we just wanted to settle down, keep everything calm, and play to our tempo. It worked, and we came out with the win."
"We knew they had a lot of momentum coming into this game from beating Rogers and then beating Central," Alexander said. "We thought using our size inside would help us get the victory.
"When they beat Central, they hit a lot of 3s, so we wanted to guard their perimeter shooters and make them dribble and try to beat us inside."
This is Whitmer's deepest advancement since reaching the D-I state semifinals in 2008. Last year their season ended at 20-2 with an upset loss to Central Catholic, which successfully used a slow-down strategy to take a 28-27 win in the district semis.
The potential of a repeat from undersized Southview was on veteran Whitmer coach Bruce Smith's mind, and he had his players ready to face it just in case.
"That was in the back of our minds, and we talked about it yesterday and today in terms of how we were going to handle it mentally," Smith said. "We were aware that that was a possibility."
Wormley, not usually a big scoring threat, became the Panthers' most obvious offensive option down low with Southview (11-13) starting no player taller than Wormley's future Wolverines teammate, 6-3 Cougar forward Allen Gant.
"We definitely wanted to exploit them not having much size on the court," Wormley said, "so I was able to step up and maybe score a little bit more points than I'm used to.
"We had the game plan set [Friday], and I think we executed it pretty well."
That was half the battle plan for Whitmer, and coach Smith. The rest came at the defensive end, where the Panthers were determined to prevent Southview from utilizing the 3-point arc.
The Cougars were 7-of-13 on 3-pointers in upsetting Central Catholic 49-43 in a district semifinal on Thursday night.
Saturday night, Whitmer's total defensive domination yielded Southview just seven field goals in the game on 36 attempts (19 percent), including a 1-of-9 effort on 3-pointers.
"We had a lot of layups," Southview coach Marc Jump said, "but there were a lot of 6-7 and 6-8 arms standing there at the rim. The shots we were able to make the last couple games we were not able to get them to go down.
"Whitmer does a wonderful job defending. They've got quick guards, they get in a stance, they play great help-side. They make it very hard to score."
It wasn't exactly a landslide, but Whitmer grabbed a 2-0 lead 17 seconds into the game on a big two-handed slam dunk from Hayes, and the Panthers never trailed in the game. They led 18-9 at halftime and 31-16 after three quarters.
Whitmer was 15-of-31 (48 percent) from the field, 13-of-21 from the line, outrebounded Southview 33-17, and committed only nine fouls in executing their inside-outside clampdown on the Cougars.
Gant topped Southview with six points, and Jordan Hunt added five in the tourney finale, which represented the Cougars' deepest boys tournament run ever.
"I know it's hard right now, but our kids have to catch a little perspective at some point that they made a great tournament run," Jump said. "We beat two teams [Rogers and Central Catholic] who were in the state semifinals last year, so this was a awesome tournament for our guys."
"There's only 16 teams left [in D-I tourney], and we're one of them," Smith said of his team. "But we always have work to do. We're not exactly a Picasso, but we are still alive. We're going to try to get better Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday and lay it on the line against Norwalk on Wednesday."