The Toledo Area Athletic Conference crosstown rivals know the game means more than most with respect to their regular season schedules.
TC guard Eric Cellier showed up for Saturday night's meeting ready to do his part in helping his team’s cause. He responded with a game-high 26 points to lead the Eagles to a 57-44 victory over the Green Bears before an enthusiastic crowd inside TC’s new gym.
The 6-foot-2 junior poured in 16 of his points after halftime to help the Eagles improve to 8-1 overall and 4-0 in the TAAC. The Eagles outscored the Bears 33-22 in the second half after taking a 24-22 advantage into halftime.
"We knew it was a big game and it was going to be a big crowd," said Cellier, who sank three 3-pointers. "We had a great week of practice and I give the coaches credit for doing a great job of preparing us for the game."
Josh Winzeler swished four of TC's eight 3-pointers to finish with 12 points. Dominique Pittman added nine for the Eagles, who increased their halftime advantage by outscoring the Bears 17-8 during the decisive third quarter. Cellier and Winzeler accounted for 13 of their points during the third quarter.
TC owned a 41-30 lead after three quarters and never looked back.. The Eagles led by as much as 16 points in the final quarter.
"Ottawa Hills is a great rival and they are a great team," TC coach Dave McWhinnie said. "Their kids played hard and we knew we had to play our best tonight and I think we played pretty close to our best tonight."
While Cellier’s second-half effort may have been key to carrying the Eagles home to victory, his performance in the first half allowed TC to take hold of the early momentum.
Cellier reached double figures by halftime, scoring 10 before the break, including a four-point play in the second quarter to give the Eagles a 22-16 lead with 5 minutes, 20 seconds left before intermission. He was fouled while sinking a 3-pointer and made the foul shot. Cellier also opened the game for TC by scoring the Eagles’ first seven points.
"He’s a great player, in my opinion, he’s a phenomenal kid and a phenomenal player," McWhinnie said of Cellier. "To beat Ottawa Hills you have to have your best players have the effort like that and he did."
But McWhinnie also thinks his leading scorer had plenty of help with the win. Defensively, the Eagles forced the Bears into committing 17 turnovers.
Ottawa Hills coach John Lindsay also credited the Eagles with a strong effort in the first meeting between the two TAAC frontrunners.
"Toledo Christian is an excellent basketball team," Lindsay said. "They are exactly who we thought they are.
"We aspire to defend the way they defended tonight. I thought they were good defensively and they also shot well from the perimeter."
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade.