High School Basketball Notebook: State teams led by little guys with heart

By Jim Manion | Correspondent Published:

You expect to see big guys and some nice dunks when you come to a state tournament.

In just two days, we have already seen some slams and Villa Angela-St Joe's Carlton Bragg towers at 6-foot-10.

Even though Bragg missed a break-away slam Friday morning, he made up for it later in the game with some highlight stuffers.

What I think is really impressive -- so far -- is the number of little guys that are always the leaders on the floor. There have been plenty of 5-9, 5-10 and even 5-6 guys that run the show for their team and play much taller than their size listed in the program. The skill level and ball-handling ability that these kids show is just amazing.

Villa Angela-St Joe's point guard Maurice Johnson is one of those guys. He is all of 5-10 (and I doubt that) and surrounded by all-staters and guys that will definitely play at the next level. However, if you took Johnson off that team, they sure would miss him. Vikings coach Babe Kwasniak talked a lot about Johnson in his postgame interview Friday.

"He (Johnson) sacrifices so much on the floor and all he cares about is winning," said the Vikings' coach. "I wouldn't call him our glue guy, but our chemistry guy and he might not be the best point guard in Cleveland, but he sure is the best point for this team."

Several others that would make my under-6-foot all-star team would be 5-11 Cody Calhoun from Bishop Waterson, Norwalk's 5-10 Jordan Johnson and Lima Central Catholic's point guard Xavier Simpson, who is a 5-9 sophomore.

St. Thomas Aquinas has four players under 6-foot. The 5-6 point for the Knights, Pete Ruthe, is the smallest guy seen on the floor so far this weekend. However, St. Thomas has a 5-5 sophomore on the bench that may be seen during today's title game.

BISHOP PUSHES ST. JOE

Opening play on Friday featured Division III and the gameplan of Columbus Bishop Ready was to get physical with the much quicker, much bigger and much faster Villa Angela-St. Joe.

In what I would call one of the most physical games I have ever seen in the paint, the skinny 6-foot-3 kids from Ready came ready to stand up to top-ranked St. Joe's.

Kwasniak said following the game that Ready played the best and hardest defense they have faced all season. And that is saying something because the Vikings could have maybe the toughest schedule of anyone in the state.

For Bishop, it was respectable, but not quite enough as the team lost to St. Joe's 55-40.

The Vikings are attempting to win their sixth state championship overall and back-to-back titles. They will get that chance today after wearing down the Silver Knights in the second half.

Villa Angela-St. Joe has only one senior on its roster. I would expect this team to bring back another state title today and would wager on a three-peat to close out the 2014-15 season.

TEAMS WITH A HISTORY

The second Division III game of Friday was a match between two teams that have a storied history.

St. Bernard Roger Bacon has been to Columbus five times, with the biggest night for the Spartans coming in 2002 when they shocked the tournament by beating then nationally ranked St. Vincent-St. Mary when Lebron James was a junior.

Lima Central Catholic has the distinction of losing three years in a row to Ottawa-Glandorf -- last year's Division III state champs. The Thunderbirds are making their seventh trip to the Final Four. They won the state title in 2010 and took an early lead over Roger Bacon on Friday, leading by as many as 10 points in the first half. Lima CC led at the half 32-25.

The second half saw the Thunderbirds pull away for the win 63-44. They looked very impressive and could make the battle with Villa Angela-St. Joe interesting in the title game today, which is at 4:30 p.m.

DIVISION I

The big schools took the stage to wrapup Friday's semifinals. Lakewood St. Edward opened the card against Cleveland East Tech. The Eagles from St. Ed are probably the biggest overall team in the tournament. Making their first appearance since 2012, every player that starts is over 6-2, with one at 6-6 and another at 6-7.

The Eagles are playing in their eighth state tournament and seventh under coach Eric Flannery, who has been head coach at St. Ed's for 18 years. East Tech is making its 11th appearance, but has not been in Columbus since 1972. The Scarabs were very dominating back in the 1950s and up through 1972.

St. Ed wasted little time showing why it has only lost two of 26 games this year. The Eagles rolled early and went up 43-23 by intermission. The second half was much the same, rotating as many as 10 players as the Eagles pushed their lead to 74-45 after three quarters and closed the door 89-64.

Speaking of little guys, East Tech's 5-11 freshman Markell Johnson, made a nice dunk in traffic late in this game.

The nightcap for Division I saw Upper Arlington meet Trotwood Madison. Upper Arlington (26-1) has not been to the Final Four since 1939, while Trotwood overcame a 16-point deficit to Cincinnati Moeller in the regional final to advance to Columbus.

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