COLUMBUS – Some teams show up at state basketball tournaments with new uniforms. Others bring new haircuts, not all of them flattering looks.
But Lima Central Catholic showed up with a new defense, and it played a key role in the Thunderbirds’ 63-44 win over Cincinnati Roger Bacon in a Division III state semifinal Friday.
LCC (24-4) will play Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph (22-7) at 4:30 p.m. today at the Value City Arena for the state title.
LCC led 32-25 at halftime but coach Frank Kill thought they needed something a little more in the second half.
That something more was a defense that doesn’t rank among his favorites but was something he thought would work well against Roger Bacon.
The Thunderbirds went to a 1-3-1 zone and their seven-point halftime lead grew to 17 points after three quarters and went as high as 26 points before their starters left the game in the fourth quarter.
Roger Bacon, which had only one field goal in the last 10 ½ minutes of the first half, unraveled completely in the second half on offense and wasn’t much better on defense.
“The zone was the difference. I’m not a zone guy,” Kill said. “In the last 10 games we’ve shown it but we haven’t really put it out there.”
The new addition to its defensive playbook was far from the only thing LCC did well.
The Thunderbirds got 46 points from their three starting guards – a game-high 19 by Martyce Kimbrough, 14 by Xavier Simpson and 13 by Tre Cobbs.
They shot 46 percent, compared to 31 percent by Roger Bacon. They had fewer turnovers (14 vs. 18) and dominated the rebounding statistics 40-28, led by Dantez Walton with 11 and Jake Williams with nine.
“I came into this game thinking our strengths kind of exposed their weaknesses,” Kill said.
LCC jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the game’s first minute and a half on the strength of a 10-footer and a 3-pointer by Kimbrough, with a drive for a score by Cobbs in between. Roger Bacon (22-5) got to within one point at 18-17 early in the second quarter but never was able to get in front.
Carlas Jackson, who shared Division III Player of the Year honors with Kimbrough and Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s Brian Parker, scored eight points and hit only 3 of 13 shots. Dahmere Epperson also had eight points for the Spartans.
“When we come into a game we always want to throw the first punch and get out to a good lead and set the tone and get the momentum,” Kimbrough said. “To come out the way we did was big and we kept that momentum the rest of the game.”
Even when the lead hit 10, then 15, then 20 points, LCC kept a strong grip on the momentum.
“Every time there was a dead ball or a timeout, we said to keep stepping on them, keep stepping on them,” Kimbrough said. “Early in the season we would get a lead and give it up. We knew they started to get down on themselves and we started to pick each other up.”
Maybe the biggest worry for the Thunderbirds in the second half was attrition. First, Simpson went down with a sprained ankle early in the third quarter and spent four minutes on the bench before returning.
Then 16 seconds after Simpson got back, Cobbs left with leg cramps. He also returned, but late in the game Ethan O’Connor took a shot to the nose and went out with a bloody nose.
“I was going for the ball on a long pass. I kind of rolled it (his ankle), and it hurt pretty bad,” Simpson said. “It kind of went away when I walked around on it and the trainer helped me. But I’m going to ice it tonight.”
Roger Bacon looked little like a team whose only losses were against Division I Cincinnati Elder, Cincinnati Moeller and Cincinnati LaSalle and Division II Kettering Alter.
“We obviously did not play our best basketball game today,” Roger Bacon coach Brian Neal said. “Every time we felt like we could get some momentum, they stole it back. Teams are going to struggle. We just picked the wrong day to do it.
“On this day in this game they were the better team. From our standpoint, it was whatever could go wrong did go wrong,” he said.
Lima Central Catholic will be playing in its fourth state championship game. LCC won the Division III title in 2010 and was runner-up in Division III in 1994 and in Division IV in 1989.
This is the 10th state championship game for Villa Angela-St. Joseph, which beat Leipsic 87-63 in last year’s Division IV state championship game.
Division III State Semifinal
At Value City Arena
LCC 63, Roger Bacon 44
Lima Central Catholic
Xavier Simpson 14, Martyce Kimbrough 19, Tre Cobbs 13, Dantez Walton 3, Jake Williams 7, Ethan O’Connor 5, Aiden O’Connor 2. Totals: 22-16-63.
Reggie Williams 3, Cody Niesen 3, Dahmere Epperson 8, Fred Moore 7, Carlas Jackson 8, Austin Frentsos 7, Craig McGee 2, Trey McBride 5, Monty Webley 1. 12-17-44..
Score by quarters:
LCC— Kimbrough 2, Simpson 1; RB— Niesen 1, Jackson 1, Greene 1
Records: LCC 24-4; Roger Bacon 22-5.