ELIDA — When Shawnee’s boys basketball team won the regional championship Saturday, this year’s players stepped up to a ladder beneath the baskets to cut off a portion of the net.
Then a handful of graduated seniors from last year’s team climbed up, claiming their piece of rope to commemorate a trip to the Division II state basketball tournament, even if it’s a year late. That undefeated team’s chance at a regional championship was stripped away, when the start of the COVID-19 pandemic ended that season without a trophy.
“We felt really good about our chances to get to this point last year, and it was all of a sudden gone,” said Mark Triplett, the coach of a Shawnee team that’s gone 50-1 over the past two years. “A lot of emotions come in from that as well.”
That moment wasn’t lost on Shawnee on Saturday afternoon at the Elida Fieldhouse, as it took care of business in an 88-74 game against a talented Akron Buchtel team to earn the Indians’ first trip to the state’s final four since 2000. This will mark Shawnee’s third trip overall, with another appearance in 1965.
The game wasn’t as close as it appeared, as the Indians led by 25 points early in the fourth quarter before Griffins’ 19-4 quarter made the score appear more respectable. The Indians pulled ahead early, leading 9-2 in the first quarter and using an 11-0 run in the second quarter to pull ahead 36-15.
“Since middle school, people have been telling us we’re the class that could bring us to Columbus,” said Tyson Elwer, a 6-5 senior who collected 16 rebounds and gave out a team-high seven assists in the win. “We all believed in it, especially after last year. We used that as fuel and kept pushing every day, kept the memory of those seniors alive every day.”
The Indians, 25-1 and ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll, face the top team in the state, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, at 2 p.m. Saturday at University of Dayton Arena in the state semifinals. The Fighting Irish topped Gates Mills Gilmour Academy, 67-40, in their regional championship.
Saturday’s game will provide plenty of fond memories for Shawnee. The game promised a showdown of two of Division II’s top players, Shawnee’s George Mangas and Buchtel’s Chris Livingston, and they both lived up to the hype.
Parts of the game looked like the two were playing a game of HORSE: Livingston hit a 3-pointer, Mangas came right back and hit a trey. Livingstone drove inside for a layup; Mangas maneuvered the ball through the paint for two. Livingston brought the crowd to its feet with a thunderous dunk; Mangas would answer with his own two-hand slam.
Mangas, a 6-foot-4 swingman and the division’s player of the year last season, got the win and the better game. He finished with 40 points on 63% shooting, including 4 of 11 from behind the 3-point line. He also had five rebounds. In comparison, the 6-foot-6 Livingston finished with 34 points on 42% shooting, with a game-high 19 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards.
Mangas came out firing in the second half, scoring four baskets without a miss, including two 3-pointers. He scored 23 of his points in the final 16 minutes.
“I love competing against a guy like Livingston,” Mangas said. “He’s a really talented player. He was getting some points inside on us.”
The remainder of the teams proved to be the difference.
“Livingston’s going to have his plays,” Triplett said. “We said at the end of the day, all of his dunks are still going to be worth the same amount of points as our transition layups. You can’t get caught up in the moment of, ‘This kid’s really, really good. He’s really, really talented.’ We just have to go play our game, and I thought our kids did that.”
Different players stepped up at different times for the Indians.
Elwer, who missed several games this year kept pulling down defensive rebound after defensive rebound, firing the ball downcourt for a quick offensive play. Austin Miller, who finished with 13 points, kept ducking into the lane, taking the pass and getting the layup. Brady Wheeler, who scored 13 points Saturday, cooly handled any pressure combination the Griffins (18-5) threw at him.
Meanwhile, the Griffins’ supporting cast went cold. Aside from Livingston, the remainder of the lineup only hit 33% of its shots, led by Noah Peeples’ 14 and Travonne Jackson’s 11. That’s in comparison to Shawnee’s 58.5% shooting in the game.
Now the Indians are headed to the state championship, with a title on their mind.
“We’re going to state. It’s a dream come true,” Mangas said. “We’ve always dreamed of going to state, and now we’re going.”