COLUMBUS – The road to the Division III boys basketball state championship game ran right through the lane at one end of the court at the Value City Arena for Ottawa-Glandorf on Thursday.
Two times – once when Matthew Kaufman drove for the game-tying basket in the final seconds of regulation and then when a drive by T.J. Metzger led to the game-winning free throw in overtime – driving the lane was the path to success.
Metzger’s free throw, the second of a two-shot opportunity with one second to play gave the Titans a dramatic 61-60 overtime win over Ironton in a game they trailed in by six points with less than a minute to play in regulation.
O-G (25-3) will play Versailles (23-5) at 10:30 a.m. Saturday for the Division III state championship.
Metzger led Ottawa-Glandorf with 25 points, 17 of them in the first half when he hit four 3-pointers. Kaufman had 11 points. Ironton got 27 points and 13 rebounds from 6-foot, 6-inch post player Trey Fletcher and 14 points from 6-4 Trevor White.
Zac Carter, the Tigers’ leading scorer at 23.9 points a game, was the focus of O-G’s defense and was held to 12 points on 4 of 16 shooting.
“It was top to bottom, we had guys make huge plays,” Ottawa-Glandorf coach Tyson McGlaughlin said.
Every play became huge after Ironton took a 54-48 lead on a pair of free throws by Josh Glover – his only points of the day – with 56 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
And things looked even worse for the Titans before they got better when they missed their next shot and Ironton got the rebound.
But Kaufman stole the ball and Caleb Siefker launched a 3-pointer and was fouled with 41 seconds left.
Siefker, a 72-percent free throw shooter, hit all three free throws, then scored on a layup on the Titans’ next possession to cut the lead to 54-53.
After a free throw put Ironton up 55-53, O-G had 27 seconds to tie the game.
With two seconds left on the clock, a huge hole opened up in the middle of the floor and Kaufman took the ball to the basket to send the game into overtime.
“We had a play set up but they picked up the pressure and forced us outside. We had two or three players outside with defenders on them, so when I got the ball I just looked for an opening and there was an opening in the paint,” Kaufman said.
“I was surprised. It was almost too easy of a layup. I was kind of nervous about making it,” he said.
O-G scored first in overtime and was never behind. But when Carter hit two free throws after a Titans turnover, the game was tied 60-60 with 35 seconds on the clock.
With the clock running down, Metzger drove the lane under pressure and was fouled. He missed the first free throw but hit the second.
“I was trying to get the and-one,” Metzger said. As it turned out, he just got one but that was all the Titans needed.
“I try not to think about things when I’m at the free throw line,” he said. “My body was shaking a little so it was just get the ball up to the rim. I tried to keep my concentration and focus on the second one.”
Maybe Metzger and his teammates were used to pressure. The Titans had all five starters back this season from last year’s state semifinalist team, so they faced big expectations from Day One.
It was Ironton that looked like the tournament-seasoned team early when it jumped out to a 23-12 lead in the first minute of the second quarter. But Ottawa-Glandorf’s experience might have been valuable in that situation.
“We’ve been here. Our guys know there are momentum swings. We were confident we were going to get back into the game,” McGlaughlin said.
After a quick timeout, the Titans went on a 15-2 run to take a 27-25 lead. O-G led most of the rest of the way and the teams were never separated by more than five points until Ironton’s late six-point lead.
Ironton coach Mark LaFon said, “We made the run early in the game to start out but Ottawa-Glandorf made their run right back at us. We got that six-point lead under a minute and didn’t take care of things, even though we had some chances to.”
Ottawa-Glandorf will be playing for its third state championship in boys basketball. It was Division III champion in 2008 and the Division II winner in 2004. The Titans were state runner-up in 1996 and also went to state in 1977, 1978 and last season.
Saturday, they get a chance to add to that tradition.
“It’s a big deal for me and all my teammates,” Metzger said. “All the hard work everyone has put in over the years is starting to pay off. If we can get the state championship, we can be one of the best (at Ottawa-Glandorf).”
McGlaughlin called the Titans “12-year ready” to win a state title.
“I think we’re about 12 years ready. Call me biased, but there is not a better atmosphere and support than Ottawa-Glandorf. There are only 5,000 people in our town and we have a 400-person waiting list to get season tickets. The passion we have at O-G is amazing,” he said.
“Our kids go to games when they’re young with the dream of wearing the blue and gold. They understand at a young age it’s not about sectional championships.”