It’s no secret that I am a basketball junkie and love talking hoops with fans from high schools all over west-central and northwest Ohio. I have a habit of finding a school’s most ardent fans and asking their opinion of the greatest and most memorable shot in their school’s history. With that in mind, I’ve decided to write some columns on my own opinion on each area school’s greatest shot ever. I will limit the shot to field goals, (free throws will be another column) and will give extra weight to postseason tournament games. This is completely subjective on my part. Feel free to email me if you disagree with my choices or have a suggestion. I’ll start with the Spartans.
March 27, 1992 – Lima Senior High vs. Canton McKinley – State semifinal – St. John Arena
So many to choose from, but this one is easy. Greg Simpson hits a 3-point shot from half court at the buzzer, in overtime, to tie the game and send it into a second OT.
This game was one of the most anticipated matchups played at state in that era. The Spartans arrived in Columbus as the state’s sixth ranked squad and boasting the remarkably talented Greg Simpson. The previous week Simpson had been named Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball” for the second consecutive year. Their opponent that day, Canton McKinley, was the number one ranked team in the state with a lineup that included several athletes who went on to play college basketball and football at the Division I level.
The scalpers hawking tickets outside St. John Arena made a fortune that day. Everyone wanted to see this game. All 13,276 seats were filled and the standing room only crowd was treated to an unforgettable game.
Canton McKinley built 21-point leads in both the first and second halves but coach Paul Whitney’s Spartans battled back by applying pressure and running at every opportunity. “We just kept fighting,” Whitney remembered. Down 11 going into the fourth quarter, LSH scored 28 points to force an overtime. “We were in great shape,” Whitney added. “We just never got tired.”
Late in the first overtime, Canton McKinley appeared to have sealed the win by making two free throws for a three-point lead with just seconds on the clock. To compound the problem, Lawndale Thomas, a key veteran for the Spartans, fouled out on the play. But Simpson hugged his good friend and promised him, “I’ll get this game into another overtime.”
LSH had to take the ball full court and nail a 3-point shot for the tie and had only six seconds to make it work. It was no secret to anyone in St. John Arena who would take the shot. Canton McKinley knew it too and assigned two players to guard Simpson. The Spartans quickly inbounded the ball to Simpson who began his drive down the court as the clock ticked down to zero and the huge crowd screaming at full throat.
Just past half court, Simpson pulled up for an impossible last second shot with two defenders draped all over him. “I did a little in and out move and got the space I needed,” he remembered. “Once I released it, I knew it was going in.”
Mike Mullen, the longtime voice of WIMA radio was sitting courtside on press row and thought the same thing. “I was just a couple feet from Simpson when he took that shot” he remembered. “I had a direct line of sight on the trajectory of his shot and it was dead on.”
Nearly 30 years after the shot, Simpson remembered the moment like it was yesterday. “When they made the two free throws, I remember thinking we were only down three and if I could get to my spot, I could make it,” Simpson said. “I was surprised by two things, number one, they let me get the ball in bounds and, number two, they didn’t foul me before I got the shot off.”
Making half court shots didn’t pose a problem for Simpson. “When I was young, my dad told me I should practice half court shots because you never knew if you were going to need one,” he said. “From high school right through college I never left a practice until I made a jump shot from half-court,”
When Simpson’s shot found its way through the net, St. John Arena exploded with appreciation for the Ohio State Buckeye commit. That basket remains one of the most memorable shots in OHSAA state basketball tournament history.
In the final overtime, the Spartans outscored the Bulldogs 8 to 5 to secure the win. Eric Watkins’ two free throws late, his only points in the game, secured the win. Final score: Lima Senior High 91 – Canton McKinley 88.
The win advanced the Spartans to play in the basketball state championship for the first time in school history.
Simpson’s final stats included 34 points, five 3-pointers, two crowd pleasing slam dunks and one amazing half court jumper that found nothing but net.
Simpson’s teammates provided plenty of help. Demond Lyles, Larry Chambers and Michael Brown all scored in double figures for LSH.
Unfortunately, the Spartans fell short the next day in the state final, falling to fellow GMC foe, West Chester Lakota, in another overtime game, 88-86.
For the record, Greg Simpson’s incredible half-court jumper in the state semifinal is my pick for the greatest shot in Lima Senior High basketball history.
Runner up: March, 1968 - LSH-Toledo Central Catholic – Regional final – Bowling Green State University — Greg Saucer scores a layup in the closing seconds following his block of TCC’s attempt at a game winning shot, earning the Spartans a trip to state.
Up next: Lima Central Catholic
Reach Bob Seggerson at email@example.com.