DELPHOS — There was always a chance.
Even though Lima Central Catholic led all but 3 ½ minutes in its 56-48 boys basketball win over Delphos St. John’s on Sunday, there was always a chance the Blue Jays could have gotten back in the game.
A turnover or two, a couple of 3-pointers, the surge of momentum so many teams have seen on a trip to St. John’s and there was a chance the game might have turned in a different direction.
But Lima Central Catholic’s defense took away that chance.
The Thunderbirds forced the Blue Jays into as many turnovers in the second half as they had averaged for a full game the rest of the season and clamped down on their big scorers in the final 16 minutes to win this rivalry game for the fourth year in a row.
“I think our defense really dictated the game tonight, especially in the second half,” LCC coach Frank Kill said.
“That’s our game. When we get steals and turnovers and deflections, we’re a pretty tough team to beat. I’ve always said our defense carries our offense,” he said.
St. John’s coach Aaron Elwer also pointed to LCC’s defense as the biggest factor in the game.
“Their speed and athleticism is something we hadn’t seen to this point,” he said. “It’s tough to simulate that in practice. It seemed like we’d get something going and they’d get a steal or a deflection and that would lead to easy opportunities for them.”
St. John’s had 19 turnovers in the game, eight over its season average. Eleven of those came in the second half.
“That’s why they’re so good, they can create difficult situations for you and then they turn it quick on offense. I think that was the difference in the game. Some of that was us being a little loose with the ball but it was also their speed and athleticism create a little bit of havoc,” Elwer said.
Darius West scored 14 points and Tre’on Johnson had 10 points. Jake Williams had nine points and four rebounds off the bench for LCC (10-1), which has won 10 games in a row.
Curtis Geise (18 points) and Ryan Buescher (12 points) led St. John’s (6-3). After scoring 21 of St. John’s 23 points in the first half, they combined for nine second-half points.
“They rode him (Geise) but I think we did a better job on him in the second half of switching (defensively) or making sure he got rid of the ball. I wasn’t going to let him get easy looks,” Kill said.
“I think the fourth quarter was big for us. Xavier Simpson’s defensive play on their guards was really the difference, whether it was a deflection or a steal that led to a basket,” he said.
St. John’s last lead was at 19-16 halfway through the second quarter. After LCC built a six-point lead in the first minute of the second half, the Blue Jays fought back to tie the game at 29-29 on a steal by Geise.
But the Thunderbirds pushed the lead back to seven points, 39-32, early in the fourth quarter and never led by fewer than five points in the final eight minutes.
LCC lost starting post player Corey Stewart in the first half when he suffered a sprained ankle. He could be out for two to three weeks, Kill said.