Ironton gets big tourney win
ATHENS - The big man came up big in the big game.
With the Chesapeake defense geared to stop Dennis Gagai and its offense putting the game in low gear, Ironton's 6-foot-5 senior center Cliff Howard took charge.
Howard hit all eight of his field goal attempts as he scored 20 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots as Ironton beat the Panthers 43-39 Thursday in the Division III regional semifinals at the Ohio University Convocation Center.
Ironton coach Roger Zornes said Howard's physical size enabled him to perform well against Chesapeake's 6-6 Brennan Hall.
"(Howard) was moving real well. We felt we had an edge. He's stronger than Hall. The kids did a good job recognizing that and getting him the ball," coach Zornes said.
Howard said he was mentally prepared to accept the challenge as Ironton beat the Panthers for the second time this season.
"It was a big game and I was pumped up," Howard said. "We felt if we got their big guy in foul trouble it would be easier for us. I'm sure that was their plan, too."
Chesapeake coach Norm Persin pointed toward two key factors in the game: His team's inability to hit shots and the play of Howard.
"(Howard) was the difference in the game. Any time he got the ball he scored. We put different guys on him and it didn't matter," Persin said.
"And the difference in the game was we made shots early, (but) how many times did we have a tip at (the ball) and it rolled in
and rolled out? "
Ironton, 24-0, will play Bloom-Carroll (17-6) in the regional championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday. The winner advances to the state tournament.
Bloom-Carroll beat Bellaire 46-37 for its 10th straight win as Kale Richardson scored 19 points.
P.J. Rase scored 19 points for the Panthers (22-2), but he missed three 3-point goal attempts down the stretch including a 35-footer with five seconds left in an attempt to tie the game.
Persin defended the long shot.
"We usually don't call a time out in a situation like that, but we did because we wanted our kids to be aware we were down three," Persin said. "We just didn't execute the play and (Rase) was on his own. We had two shots (in the fourth quarter) that went in and out."
Marcus Williams rebounded the final missed shot and hit the first of two foul shots to set the final score with three seconds left. Ironton struggled at the foul line as the Fighting Tigers converted only 7 of 15 attempts including the front end of three one-and-ones over the final 49 seconds that could have clinched the game.
Rase hit his first four shots as the Panthers were tied 13-13 at the end of the first quarter, a complete contrast to the first meeting when Ironton jumped out to a 19-2 lead and went on to win 59-47.
'We had the pace early that we want and then we made some silly turnovers and we played right into their hands," coach Zornes said.
Rase hit a 30-footer with three seconds left in the first half as the Panthers went up 21-20. But Ironton came back to take a 33-31 lead after the third quarter as Howard scored 7 points.
Brigham Waginger hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and put Ironton up 36-31, but the Panthers rallied to take a 39-38 lead on a putback basket by Hall with 3:52 to play.
Howard answered with a basket inside and Gagai nailed a 15-footer with 2:16 left to push the lead to 42-39.
Over the final two minutes the Panthers missed three 3-point attempts while Ironton was missing foul shots.
Coach Zornes praised the play of Joe Zornes who started despite a badly sprained ankle and backup Chad Miller who had two key steals in the second half.
"Joe really toughed it out. We were pretty banged up. Dennis hurt his ankle, Joe had a (chipped bone) in his ankle, and Cliff was not feeling well," coach Zornes said. "Chad Miller did a great job. He's so quick he was able to get into Finley and keep him from shooting."
Persin praised the work of Justin Porter on Gagai who had 33 points in the district championship win over Eastern Brown.
"Porter did a marvelous job on Gagai, and I was happy for Rase. He hit every big shot to keep us in the game," Persin said.
Brennan Hall 3-9 2-3 8, Justin Porter 2-4 0-0 4, P.J. Rase 8-20 2-2 19, Trent Finley 2-9 0-0 6, Dustin O'Brien 1-4 0-0 2, Caleb McComas 0-0 0-0 0, Brent Ransbottom 0-2 0-0 0, Matt Whitmore 0-0 0-0 0, Jeff Thornburg 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 16-48
39. Fouls: 15. Fouled out: Rase (4th :03). 3-point goals: 3-11 (Finley 2-6, Rase 1-5). Rebounds: 10-10=20 (Hall 4, O'Brien 4, Ransbottom 4). Team/deadball rebounds: 11. Total rebounds: 31. Assists: 4 (Hall 2). Steals: 3. Turnovers: 8. FG% – 33.3. FT% – 80. 3pt% – 27.3.
Dennis Gagai 2-9 0-0 5, Brigham Waginger 4-11 0-3 9, Joe Zornes 1-2 0-0 2, Cliff Howard 8-8 4-7 20, Marcus Williams 1-5 3-5 5, Brent McBride 0-0 0-0 0, Chad Miller 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 17-37
43. Fouls: 11. Fouled out: None. 3-point goals: 2-7 (Gagai 1-4, Waginger 1-2, Zornes 0-1). Rebounds: 8-18=26 (Howard 11, Gagai 7). Team/deadball rebounds: 2. Total rebounds: 28. Assists: 8 (Gagai 4, Zornes 2). Steals: 6 (Miller 2). Turnovers: 12. FG% – 45.9. FT% – 46.7. 3pt% – 28.6.