COLUMBUS – Devastation was something Lima Senior made Wilmington feel twice in a 61-58 win in a Division I state semifinal on Friday that sent the Spartans on to tonight’s state championship game.
The first time it made an appearance at the Schottenstein Center was when the Spartans dominated the game’s first 17 minutes with some devastating basketball to build a 20-point lead at 39-20 early in the third quarter.
The second time was when Jarron Cumberland’s 3-pointer, which would have sent the game into overtime, bounced off the side of the rim, sealing the victory that put Lima Senior in a state championship game for the first time since 1992.
The Spartans will play for the school’s first boys basketball state championship at 8:30 tonight against Westerville South, who was last year’s state runner-up. South defeated Garfield Heights in Friday’s other Division I semifinal.
Newly crowned Mr. Basketball Xavier Simpson scored 23 points and had five assists to lead No.2-ranked Lima Senior (29-0). Rico Stafford scored 11 points and had seven rebounds and Jarius Ward scored 10 points.
Cumberland, a University of Cincinnati recruit, scored 25 points for Wilmington and Jefferey Mansfield had 14 points.
“The game was just what I expected it to be — a dog fight, a grudge match,” Lima Senior coach Quincey Simpson said.
“At the end of the day my guys did the small things to win the game and made plays. I think in the state semis this is probably how games should be,” he said.
Lima Senior’s win was its fifth straight in the postseason in which the other team had made it a one-possession game or taken the lead in the fourth quarter.
No.3-ranked Wilmington (27-2) cut Lima Senior’s 20-point lead to three points, 61-58, when Cumberland was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer and he made all three free throws with eight seconds to play.
And after Simpson missed two free throws with six seconds to play, Cumberland had a chance to tie it. But with Simpson guarding him, he double-clutched a 3-point attempt and it was wide left.
“I was just trying to get him to turn. He double clutched the shot. I’m glad he missed it,” Simpson said.
Simpson already has won a state title as the point guard on Lima Central Catholic’s 2014 Division III champions before transferring to Lima Senior.
The feeling of returning to the Schottenstein Court was “very special,” he said. “I just want to finish it out.”
While Lima Senior was in celebration mode, Wilmington was “devastated” when the game was over, coach John Noszka said.
“We came up here to win,” he said. “We’d like to have that first half over. That’s not Wilmington basketball. The first half wasn’t the way we were supposed to play. We simply didn’t do what we needed to do.
“It was a valiant effort against a really good team. But when you’re down 20 and they’ve got Xavier Simpson out there, it’s tough to get the ball off him.”
Lima Senior scored the first three buckets of the game, was up 35-19 at halftime and got the first two baskets of the second half for its 20-point lead.
“We just jumped out like we knew how to and put the pressure on them,” Stafford said.
But Wilmington reduced the lead to nine points, 47-38, after three quarters and gradually got it down to three points.
“I thought our guys got relaxed when Wilmington made that run. We weren’t ball strong like we usually are. I’m sure in a game like this kids are looking at the clock every chance they get, hoping it hurries up and ends,” Quincey Simpson said.
The Spartans have made a habit of staying tough in tight games in the tournament.
They were behind by two points with 6:49 to play in their district semifinal win over Toledo Whitmer. They won by one point over Toledo St. John’s in the district championship game.
Their lead over Lorain got down to a single point in the regional semifinal and Canton McKinley got within two points in the fourth quarter of last week’s regional championship game.
Wilmington played without starting 6-4 forward Alex Miller, who suffered an elbow injury in its regional championship game.
“I thought it would be something that pulled us together and it did. But you’re still missing a kid out there who is probably going to get 10 rebounds, take some charges and be a defensive presence inside,” Noszka said. “I think that really hurt us in the first half.”
Lima Senior shot 54 percent on field goals (24 of 47), outrebounded Wilmington 33-20 and forced 14 turnovers.
“As tough as our schedule was, we never played a team this year that was as athletic and as disciplined as Lima Senior,” Noszka said.
The crowd of 15,292 who watched Lima Senior-Wilmington was the biggest crowd so far at this year’s boys state basketball tournament.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.