Watterson beats SVSM, claims first state title

COLUMBUS – Columbus Watterson won its first Ohio Division II state basketball championship with a 55-52 victory against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary Saturday afternoon in front of 12,593 at Ohio State University’s Value City Arena.

Senior Bryan Jackson, a second-team AP All-Ohio selection, scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half before fouling out with 25.4 seconds remaining, and Watterson survived a final three-point attempt to repel SVSM’s rally from a 10-point deficit in the second quarter. Juniors Matt Hughes and Cody Calhoun each had 14 points for Watterson, which finishes the season 28-1 and winners of 23 consecutive games.

Watterson was ranked No. 2 in the final AP poll.

SVSM (20-10) got 17 points from Jalen Hudson and 14 points from Nick Wells. The Irish, which began the season 9-9, took a 42-41 lead on a basket by Hudson with 5:29 remaining but Watterson answered with five straight points to regain the advantage. Despite making just 14 of 23 free throws, the Eagles were able to stay ahead.

Jackson keyed the spurt with a blocked shot that led to a go-ahead layup by Calhoun, who was fouled and made his free throw attempt to complete the three-point play. Jackson added a couple of baskets himself plus winning the race for a loose ball after a missed shot that enabled Watterson to maintain a possession. They eventually scored on a three-pointer by Matt Lehmann.

Jackson struggled with fouls against Kettering Alter in Thursday’s semifinal and in the first half against SVSM, totaling just four points in those six quarters of play, but regained his form in the second half. It was necessary as Hughes was playing in foul trouble.

“The last two or three games I was extremely frustrated but everybody talked to me after we beat Alter and told me to relax, just play your, smile, dance, sing, be you,” said Jackson. “With Hughes in foul trouble I knew he was anchoring while I was away – AWOL as coach said – and for us to be where we were at the state championship and everybody (from Watterson) there in the stands I had to make sure I had their backs.”

Watterson has been a football state semifinalist eight times, with two state titles and three runner-up finishes, but this was the school’s first appearance in the state basketball tournament.

SVSM, which won the Division III football title in December, was playing in its 11th state tournament. The Irish had won six titles in its seven previous championship game appearances, most recently in 2009 and 2011.

Watterson reached the championship game by beating Alter 53-42 in the semis. Alter, winner of three state titles, was playing in its ninth state tournament.

“I’ve been here for years in the stands watching the ball games,” said Watterson coach Vince Lombardo. “This whole experience for my team, our school, our community, my family – this has been a big part of our lives and to experience this has been a wonderful thing. We beat two storied schools in Ohio basketball with the success they’ve had so that’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

SVSM jumped out to a 9-4 lead midway through the opening quarter before Watterson closed out the period on a 9-0 run and opened the second quarter by scoring the first six points to take a 19-9 advantage. Hughes had six of the points in the run. Jarel Woodridge ended the Irish scoring drought of 7:03 by draining a three-pointer with 4:54 left in the half.

Watterson led 26-17 at halftime.

The Eagles extended their lead with a bucket by Matt Lehmann to start the scoring in the second half but SVSM got back into the game by making six of its 13 shots in the third quarter and cutting the deficit to three points, 39-36, heading into the fourth quarter.

SVSM freshman V.J. King, a second-team AP All-Ohio selection after averaging 17 points per game in the regular season, didn’t get his first basket until 6:28 remained in the third quarter. King ended the game with five points and three rebounds.