BOWLING GREEN — Bodies were bouncing off each other in what might have been the most physical boys basketball game Bath has played this season.
Most of the Wildcats’ 3-point shots were bouncing off the rim instead of falling through the basket, as they had done the rest of the year.
But, despite that adversity, added on top of the hardship of playing without injured starting guard Logan Rockhold, the Wildcats kept bouncing back time after time before losing to No. 2-ranked Columbus Watterson 57-47 in the Division II regional championship at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center on Saturday afternoon.
Watterson (26-1) advanced to the state tournament with the win. Bath (23-5) ended its season with the most wins in the program’s history, along with its first-ever regional tournament appearance.
After going 5 ½ minutes without scoring and hitting only 2 of 10 on 3-pointers in the first half, Bath found itself down 23-15 at halftime. Watterson stretched that lead to 10 points early in the third quarter and appeared ready to add to that margin.
But after forcing several turnovers, Bath was back in the game at 30-26 with 1 ½ minutes left in the third quarter.
Not long after that, though, Bath starters Conner Rockhold and Cole Chambers fouled out within 47 seconds of each other in the fourth quarter, creating a hole too big to fill in the Wildcats’ lineup.
The absence of those players and Logan Rockhold, along with the absence of the 3-pointers was too much for Bath to overcome.
“It (the 3-pointer) has been a big part of our game all year. They weren’t falling tonight. It would have helped a lot if they were,” Bath coach Doug Davis said.
“They’re a very good defensive team. They’re not No. 2 for no reason. They’re a very good basketball team,” he said.
Watterson coach Vince Lombardo said his team took particular note of Bath’s 3-point shooting after it hit 10 threes in a regional semifinal win over Cleveland Benedictine and made some adjustments to its defense.
The Eagles started the game in a man-to-man defense then switched to a match-up zone.
“We did a couple things different,” Lombardo said. “We did a lot of switching and we had to fight our instincts to be concerned with their drives. We had to stay out on their shooters.”
Conner Rockhold called Watterson, “the most physical team we’ve played this year.”
“When they got so physical with us, it was tough to get to the basket,” he said.
Bath finished the game 5 of 23 on 3-pointers and shot 38 percent overall (19 of 50).
Taren Sullivan led the Wildcats with 15 points and Chambers had 12 points. Post player Matt Hughes led Watterson with a career-best 22 points. Their first-team All-Central District player Bryan Jackson had only 4 points.
For Bath, the obvious question is what might have happened if it had been at full strength with both Rockholds on the floor.
Conner Rockhold said, “It was tougher to press them without Logan being in there. When we get them to turn their back he’s always there with a trap or he pressures the ball. We were kind of out of synch there, so that hurt us a little bit but we had some guys step up and play well.”
Davis said, “Coming into the game without Logan we had two concerns. The first was foul trouble and the second was depth. We got a little momentum there (in the third quarter) and I thought we could do it. But once we had two starters go out with five fouls it made it pretty difficult.
“Right now there is the pain of the fact we lost but before long we’ll be able to reflect back and realize how good a season we had. We easily won the most games in school history, we were the first team to make it to the regional,” he said.