DAYTON — The question is asked almost every year at boys state basketball tournaments and the same answer keeps coming up.
How do you beat Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary? You have to play an almost perfect game.
Many have tried to reach perfection for 32 minutes on the floor over the years and run into the difficulty of doing that against St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Saturday, even with a once in a generation type team, Shawnee became the latest squad to be frustrated by the Irish in a 71-42 loss in a Division II boys state basketball semifinal game at the University of Dayton Arena.
St. Vincent-St. Mary (24-2) will play Columbus DeSales for the Division II state championship today. Shawnee (25-2) bowed out after winning 74 of 79 games the last three seasons.
Shawnee fell behind early and never could catch up against St. Vincent-St. Mary, which will be going for its eighth state title since 2000, which was the freshman year of its most famous alumnus, LeBron James.
Shawnee fell behind 23-11 after one quarter and cut the lead to six points, at 27-21, with two minutes left in the first half. But St. Vincent-St. Mary pushed the lead back to 12 points, 35-23, at halftime, and then up to 20 points, 45-25, three minutes into the second half.
“I thought they did a great job of coming out with a tremendous amount of intensity. They shot the ball tremendously well. They put us in a hole,” Shawnee coach Mark Triplett said.
“I thought our kids responded, we got within six points in the second quarter and they made their run. At halftime it was 12 points and we said it’s still anybody’s game and they hit us again. They’re a team you can’t get behind. You can’t get down and they got us down and kept us down and kind of kept their foot on the gas.
“Obviously, we were going to have to play really well to win. When you shoot 13 percent on threes and you’re minus 13 on turnovers it’s tough to win a basketball game,” he said.
George Mangas led Shawnee with 19 points and Brady Wheeler scored 10. Sencire Harris led St. Vincent-St. Mary with 21 points. Austin Rayman had 18 points and Dalen Burney scored 14. Ohio State recruit Malaki Branham scored 7 points on 3 of 12 shooting.
Shawnee shot 35 percent on field goals overall and was 2 of 16 from 3-point range. It had 16 turnovers to only three for St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Three pointers were a big factor in St. Vincent-St. Mary’s offense. It had eight of them, led by Rayman, who was 5 of 5 from long range. He and Harris combined to hit eight of the first nine 3-pointers they attempted.
Rayman came into the game averaging 5.6 points a game and had hit only 24 3-pointers all season.
“He wasn’t a kid who we’d seen shoot a lot. And when you’re playing a team like that you’re going to have to give up something. He was terrific today,” Triplett said. “On the other end, I thought we got decent looks early in the game and we couldn’t buy a bucket. A lot of the credit for that goes to them defensively but those are shots our kids normally knock down.”
St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dru Joyce said his defense was focused on keeping Shawnee from getting points on run outs.
“We had two guys always get back. We recognized as we watched the tape that somewhere around 20 points a game was coming on run outs. We felt like if we could take the run outs away that they couldn’t play with us at halfcourt,” he said. “At the end of the day guys stepped up in a big way and did what we needed to do to move forward.”
St. Vincent-St. Mary is 18-4 overall since 2000 in state tournament games and is 11-1 in semifinal games.
Its four losses were to Cincinnati Roger Bacon in 2002, to Columbus Watterson in 2013 and 2014 and to New Concord John Glenn in 2016.
“We expect to be here every year. That’s how we roll, that’s what we do,” Joyce said.
Reflecting on Shawnee’s three-year run, Triplett said, “They pushed me to be a better coach because I know how hard they’re working at it and I have to return the favor and give that back to them. What they do for each other and our community is unbelievable. I really can’t put into words how special this group is. They’re special, very special.
“Everything they did on and off the court were things winning basketball players do. You never questioned their effort. You saw it every single day. And you saw it from guys who never saw the floor.”
Mangas said, “There’s not a lot of words you can say for a group like this.”
Wheeler said, “We left it all on the court. One hundred percent. No regrets.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.