Boys basketball: Centerville-Fairfield set for Division I regional final

The first thing Centerville’s Tom House said when asked about his last-second winning shot against Fairmont on Wednesday night didn’t come with a smile.

“We shouldn’t have been in that position from the start,” he said.

The Elks (27-0) have rarely been in a make-a-shot or go-home situation the past two years. But, as House said, in the regional tournament: “It’s not going to be easy.”

Fairfield (23-4) also knows it won’t be easy for them in Saturday’s 7 p.m. Division I regional final at Cintas Center. The Elks are riding a 43-game winning streak, the third longest active streak in the nation, according to MaxPreps.

“You want to play the best and we’re looking forward to that opportunity,” Fairfield coach D.J. Wyrick said.

Fairfield senior Kollin Tolbert said, “I want to play Centerville because they got all the hype. I really feel like we can beat them.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Elks are considered the best team in Ohio. They are supposed to win a second straight state title. That doesn’t mean they expect a return to the lopsided scores of their first four tournament games, but they expect to play better than they did Wednesday.

“If we can play at our level,” point guard Gabe Cupps said, “we think nobody in the state can beat us.”

Much like Fairmont challenged the Elks in a 44-42 game with great guard play from Anthony Johnson and defense that threw the Elks’ shooting rhythm off, head coach Brook Cupps expects more of the same from Fairfield.

“They’re really good, obviously -- super athletic, strong physical guards that can make plays,” Cupps said. “It’ll be a good game.”

Fairfield is led by the guard play of Logan Woods, Kollin Tolbert and Deshawne Crim. They all average between 12 and 14 points. Woods has signed to play at Wright State, and Tolbert is considered a Division I prospect although he doesn’t have any offers.

“They’re going to be a handful to guard because they’re so explosive and so athletic,” Cupps said. “And they can put five guys out there that can make shots.”

The Indians defended Wayne well in their 51-42 semifinal win Wednesday. Wayne star Lawrent Rice scored 24 points, but he took almost half of his team’s shots and made a lot of contested ones, including some of the five 3-pointers he made. Other than Rice, the Warriors shot 30.4%.

Against Fairmont, Centerville shot 38.3%. The only other game close to that was the 41.7% they shot the first time they played Fairmont. The Elks entered that game at 52.8% for the season, but the Firebirds found ways to challenge the 3-point line more than other opponents. Cupps expects strong defense from Fairfield.

“They’re going to be locked in, sitting down, guarding in the right position, challenging shots, finishing possessions and boxing out,” he said.

Centerville’s scoring is built around House, Cupps and Rich Rolf. When one has an off night the other two usually carry the load, especially from 3-point range. Rolf scored 19 and Cupps 13 on Wednesday, but the trio combined to make only 2 of 10 3-point attempts. But Wyrick, who previously coached at Butler, isn’t counting on that to happen again.

“They’re talented, they’ve got shooters, they’re well coached, they play hard, and are high IQ players,” he said.

Fairmont in its third game against the Elks had no fear factor and proved so by building a 21-10 lead. Fairfield played a tough schedule – not quite what Centerville faced – and has some common opponent scouting to draw from.

The Indians lost to Division II power Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 71-67 at Flyin’ To The Hoop. Centerville came from behind to beat SVSM 52-46 in Akron. Both teams beat Cincinnati Moeller: Centerville 63-35 and Fairfield 43-33. Centerville beat Wayne by seven and 24, and Fairfield beat Wayne by one at home and on Wednesday. The Elks beat Lakota West 80-53 in the district final, and Fairfield beat West in overtime in January.

“Our guys are going to walk in with confidence – there’s no doubt about it,” Wyrick said. “They’re not going to go into the game scared.”

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