COLUMBUS – Down 39-19 early in the third quarter, Wilmington head coach Mike Noszka said he remembered looking at the scoreboard and thinking “there’s just no way this can end this way.”
What started as a Lima Senior rout finished with a furious Wilmington comeback. The second-ranked Spartans held off the third-ranked Hurricane 61-58 in the first semifinal Friday at The Ohio State University’s Value City Arena in front of 15,292 fans.
“This group fought back. We have a cause that’s a lot bigger than just the people in that locker room. Our cause is our town. Our cause is our school. We told them when they came out for the second half to look up in the stands and look at that orange,” Noszka said. “I thought we had just a valiant effort there. I can’t be more proud of the kids.”
Ohio Mr. Basketball and Michigan-signee Xavier Simpson missed a pair of free throws with six seconds left. Hurricane Chris Wolary grabbed an uncontested rebound with no Spartans in the lane. He passed to Mr. Basketball runner-up and University of Cincinnati-signee Jarron Cumberland who raced up the court for an off-balance three that missed the mark and would’ve forced overtime.
“Everybody knows he’s going to take the shot,” Lima Senior head coach Quincey Simpson said about Cumberland. “I was hoping X (son Xavier Simpson) didn’t reach and pick up a cheap one.”
Having nobody on the free throw lane to rebound is something Lima Senior has done all season.
“We hardly ever do that. First of all, I trust my son…to knock down free throws. If we’re in that situation tomorrow, I’ll do the same thing,” Quincey Simpson said. “Throughout our year, I pull those guys over to me and use it as a quick 30-second timeout. On top of that, if I have some guys get tangled up and we get a foul that far from the basket, we don’t need that.”
Nozska didn’t waver in his decision to use his final timeout to set up a potentially game-tying play.
“We talked about calling a timeout, we had one left. We felt good we had them in transition. I have all the confidence in the world for him to make a good decision,” he said. “If we had called timeout, we would have had to work to get the ball inbounds. And we would’ve been without timeouts at that point.”
Wilmington (27-2) nearly pulled off the comeback with Jeffery Mansfield, Cumberland and Cameron Stewart having four fouls most of the final period.
“I thought guys got relaxed, and that was when Wilmington made a run. We weren’t ‘ball strong’ like we normally are,” Quincey Simpson said. “Being up like that in this type of game, I’m sure kids are looking at the clock every chance they get hoping that it hurries up and ends.”
Mansfield’s three with 3:25 left pulled Wilmington within 56-50. The Hurricane had four opportunities between then and three Cumberland free throws with eight seconds left to make it a one possession ball game.
“Those guys never quit. It shows the character of those kids,” Quincey Simpson said.
Cumberland led all scorers with 25 points. He added nine rebounds. Mansfield had 14 points, including going 6-of-6 at the line and 2-of-2 from behind the arc. Dylan Beaugard also reached double-figures for the Hurricane with 11 points.
Lima Senior (29-0) led the whole evening. Xavier Simpson scored 15 of his team-high 23 points in the first half to help give the Spartans a 35-19 advantage heading into the break. The Spartans ended the last half of the second quarter on a 14-3 run, holding Wilmington without a field goal.
By the intermission, the Spartans outrebounded the Hurricane 18-7 and had 13 points off eight Wilmington turnovers.
Noszka said the absence of post player Alex Miller made a difference.
“You’re missing a kid out there who probably going to get 10 rebounds, take some charges and be an inside presence,” Noszka said. “I thought that really hurt us in the first half. We rebounded really poorly in the first half.”
Lima Senior will play Westerville South in the Division I state title game at 8:30 p.m.
Friday, March 18, 2016
@ Schottenstein Center, Columbus
Lima Senior 61, Wilmington 58
(61) LIMA SENIOR (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Marquevious Wilson 3-1-0-7, Jarius Ward 3-1-3-10, Xavier Simpson 9-0-5-23, Ruben Flowers III 4-0-0-8, Rico Stafford 4-0-3-11, Jaylin Thomas 1-0-0-2. TOTALS 24-2-11-61.
(58) WILMINGTON (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Cameron Stewart 2-0-0-4, Dylan Beaugard 4-0-3-11, Jarron Cumberland 6-1-12-25, Jeffery Mansfield 2-0-0-4. TOTALS 17-3-21-58.
FIELD GOALS: L 24/47 (Simpson 9/16, Flowers III 4/7, Stafford 4/6); W 17/38 (Cumberland 6/15, Beaugard 4/7, Mansfield 3/4)
3 POINT FIELD GOALS: L 2/7; W 3/16 (Mansfield 2/2)
FREE THROWS: L 11/16 (Simpson 5/7); W 21/28 (Cumberland 12/17, Mansfield 6/6)
REBOUNDS: L 33 (Wilson 7, Stafford 7, Simpson 5); W 20 (Cumberland 9)
ASSISTS: L 12 (Wilson 6, Simpson 5); W 5 (Stewart 3)
STEALS: L 4; W 6 (Beaugard 2)
BLOCKED SHOTS: L 1; W 2 (Cumberland 1, Wolary 1)
TURNOVERS: L 14; W 12
Shawn covers high school sports for the News Journal. Follow him on Twitter @twinzdad01.