LIMA — It was a seven-piece puzzle which fit together perfectly.
All seven players in the Lima Central Catholic rotation knew their roles and totally accepted them.
That was one of the reasons LCC steamrolled through its season with a 28-1 record and hoisted the Division III boys basketball state championship trophy last Saturday at Ohio State’s Value City Arena.
The T-Birds rolled to a 66-44 victory over Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph in the D-III state title game.
The state semifinal game wasn’t much closer, as LCC knocked off Roger Bacon, 74-56.
In fact, over LCC’s seven-game tournament, the T-Birds won by a staggering average margin of 31 points. Entering the state tournament, LCC won tournament games by margins of 58, 36, 27, 31 and 25.
So how did it all happen?
How did the T-Birds make it look so easy en route to a third boys basketball state championship (2010, 2014, 2016)?
First, start with defense. LCC used a suffocating man-to-man most of the year but could also flip to zone if the occasion arose. No matter the defense, the T-Birds’ quickness and speed were simply too much for teams to handle.
Then, T-Birds had two first team all-state players in Tre Cobbs and Dantez Walton.
Cobbs, the Division III player of the state tournament, averaged 19.7 points and finished his career fourth on the LCC boys all-time scoring list with 1,235 points. He averaged 22 points for the state tournament, including tossing in 24 with four 3-pointers in the state championship game.
With teams daring Cobbs to shoot from the outside, he hit 7 of 11 on 3-pointers in the two state games. That opened his driving ability, and he had nine assists.
The 6-5 Walton averaged 18.9 points and 9 rebounds and ended up third on the LCC all-time scoring list with 1,275 points. Walton averaged 25 points, 11 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for the state tourney, including getting 20 points and 11 rebounds in the finals. He could scored down low, hit 3-pointers and dominated the boards at both ends.
Walton is headed to Division I Northern Kentucky. Cobbs hasn’t signed yet but could help a number of Division I schools, including every school in the Mid-American Conference.
“Walton is a great player,” VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak said. “And if Tre Cobbs isn’t a Division I player, then I don’t know what one looks like.”
But the T-Birds were a lot more than the Big Two.
Ethan O’Connor delivered with his inside/outside game and provided plenty of sticky defense. O’Connor, who averaged 6.5 points during the year, scored 12 points in the semifinals and 11 in the finals.
In the two state tournament games, O’Connor hit 9 of 14 from the field. He also had seven rebounds.
Point guard Josh Dixon (9.1 ppg) was steady all year, both hitting from the outside as well as penetrating and finding the open man. In the state semifinal win, he had six points and seven assists.
Nick Taflinger (7.1 ppg) was third on the team in 3-pointers behind Walton and Cobbs.
Jamison Bradley and Thomas Williams provided a lift off the bench. Williams averaged 4 points and 3 rebounds and would slash his way inside for the offensive rebound.
In the state semifinal, Williams had eight rebounds, while in the finals he had four points and three rebounds.
“Their role players didn’t go outside themselves,” Kwasniak said. “They do what they’re supposed to do.”
And making it all happen was coach Frank Kill, who notched his second state title as head coach (2014, 2016).
Kill rallied his T-Birds and got every player on the team to buy in and accept his role.
LCC wouldn’t have been the efficient machine it was without all seven players chipping in each night.
Reach Tom Usher at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Lima_Usher.