CANTON The McKinley Bulldogs consider themselves legitimate competitors for Columbus (or wherever the boys’ state basketball tournament is played this weird COVID-19 season).
Well, they had the chance to prove it on Saturday against the two-time defending national champion.
In a high-level physical game in front of 300 fans at Memorial Field House, Cincinnati Moeller withheld McKinley for a 57-52 win.
It was the first meeting in the history of these two historic programs, and hopefully another will happen sooner or later.
“I thought it was a great high school game,” said Moeller head coach Carl Kremer. “They have really great players.” They play super hard and are proud. It really is a shame that more people couldn’t have been here to see it. “
Even when crowds were severely restricted by coronavirus pandemic precautions, the old building next to I-77 got noisy a few times.
Both teams won against state rivals on Friday night to claim at least part of their respective championship titles. And both had plenty of gas left in their tanks on Saturday afternoon for a game that started quickly – the result was a tie between 20 and 20 after a quarter – and then turned into a possession-by-possession battle.
“The pace was pretty early. There were many possessions, “said McKinley head coach Andy Vlajkovich.” Then you suddenly realize that it will be one of them – in our program we call them EPMs: Every property is important. You committed a good insult and we stayed there. “
West Virginia recruit Kobe Johnson scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, while colleague Ronnell “Tae” Perie scored all 18 points for the Bulldogs, which rank 11 in the Associated Press Division I, in the first three quarters State survey. Moeller is in second place.
Johnson’s 3-pointer with 3:07 left ended the game 49:49 after Moeller had led into the fourth quarter with 46:39.
McKinley’s Brent Walker was called in for a foul on the subsequent Moeller possession when 6-foot-9 set up Logan Duncomb.
Duncomb made both ends of the 1-1 draw and started a string of Crusaders who hit eight straight free throws to end the game.
McKinley had four empty possessions (three of them missed 3-pointers) before Johnson hit a long 3 in the final seconds.
The Bulldog shot 6-9 from 3-point range (three of them from Perie) in the first quarter and then went 4-17 the rest of the game.
“Now they’re talented shooters, but we didn’t feel like they could go on,” Kremer said of McKinley’s hot start would play better for us. “
There is a deadly efficiency with the Crusaders, who are enormous all over the place, never seem to make mistakes, and relentlessly “put pressure on the rim,” as Kremer likes to say with drives and post-ups.
Moeller went 14-on-15 off the foul line and shot 50 percent off the ground. McKinley shot two free throws throughout the game and was called for 18 fouls against Moeller’s seven. McKinley also tried 26 3s to four from Moeller.
When asked about the nasty inequality, Vlajkovich said, “I’ll let you write about it.”
Duncomb, an Indiana University recruit, led the Crusaders with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Big-body striker Alex Williams (6-4, 223) finished the race with 15 points and six rebounds, while Evan Mahaffey scored 14 points with 6-5.
Aidan Noyes, a 6-6 Richmond recruit, added nine points for Moeller (15-3).
“They make you pay for every mistake,” said Vlajkovich. “They made us pay when we didn’t make a mistake.”
The two teams together achieved only 12 sales of six each.
McKinley Senior Amarion Herring grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots. Walker, a 6-7 Walsh recruit, scored six points and blocked two shots for McKinley (12-4), who lost to James McCollough for the fourth straight game with an ankle injury.
Johnson added four assists for the Bulldogs as he passed David Grim and current Portland Trail Blazer star, CJ McCollum, on Stark County’s all-time list. Johnson is now 18th with 1,408 career points.
As disappointed as he was with the result, Vlajkovich knows the value of Saturday’s experience. His team is a defending district champion and number 2 in the northeast district-east group. “But I think sometimes we wonder how good we really are,” he said.
Saturday should end any doubt.
“I was so proud of our boys,” said Vlajkovich. “But I told them it had to be a standard, no wonder. It has to be the new norm.”
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On twitter: @jweirREP