Fairfield eyes lengthy postseason run after clinching share of GMC title

FAIRFIELD -- Fairfield rolled into last season’s Division I boys’ basketball tournament on an eight-game winning streak and with wins in 10 of their last 11 games, as well as the program’s first-ever outright Greater Miami Conference championship.

After a first-round bye, the fourth-seeded Indians seemed to be poised for a deep tournament run before they shot just 13 percent (3-of-23) on 3-pointers while GMC-rival and 11th-seeded Lakota West sank 7-of-18 (38.9 percent) on the way to a 60-52 upset at West Clermont High School,

Fairfield again is the fourth seed in this season’s district tournament, but instead of sitting out the first round, the Indians are scheduled to meet 27th-seeded Little Miami (3-17) on Friday at 7:15 p.m. at Lakota West. The winner is due to face 26th-seeded Withrow (6-11) on Feb. 23 at 5 p.m., also at Lakota West.

Fairfield coach D.J. Wyrick intentionally avoided a first-round bye this season. He believes last season’s 11-day layoff between the regular-season finale and the tournament opener might’ve dulled the Indians’ edge.

“We took it last year because of possible COVID issues,” he said before Friday’s game against Colerain. “I told myself we’ll never do that again.”

“The good thing about playing in the first round is not having to sit around,” 6-foot-5 senior forward Owen Bronston said.

Senior guard Logan Woods already was on record as saying Fairfield’s main motivation source this season has been that premature ouster from last season’s tournament, but first, the Indians had some unfinished regular-season business. They were 17-4 overall and 13-2 in the GMC, going into their finale on Friday against Colerain with a half-game lead over second-place Sycamore (17-2, 12-2). The Aviators played Middletown on Friday in what turned out to also be the their regular-season finale.

A Fairfield win would clinch a co-championship, the fifth in program history. A Sycamore loss to Middletown would hand the Indians a second consecutive outright championship.

There was a chance that Sycamore would play at Hamilton in the makeup of a game that had been postponed twice, but the GMC announced on Thursday that the game won’t be played.

“As a point of GMC Boys Varsity Basketball standings clarification: due COVID rescheduling complications, IF both Fairfield and Sycamore win their final scheduled GMC contests on Friday; both teams will be celebrated as GMC Co-Champions,” the conference announced in a Tweet on its account.

“That kind of stuff is out of our control,” Wyrick said. “We tell the kids to focus on the things we can control. Our first goal this season was to win the GMC.”

The Indians and Aviators both took care of business. Fairfield pulled away for an 81-51 win over the Cardinals. The Aviators rolled to a 59-32 win over the Middies.

Fairfield went into the Colerain game with three straight wins after back-to-back losses at Princeton and at Sycamore. The Indians’ other losses were by three points at St. Xavier and four at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Division II state poll. Their combined losing margin in the four losses was 10 points.

Balance had been a key to Fairfield’s success this season. Senior guard Kollin Tolbert, a 6-foot-3 transfer, ranked fifth in the GMC with an average of 14.7 points per game. He was the only Indians’ player ranked among the conference’s top five in any of six categories listed on the website. Tolbert also was leading the team with an average of 5.7 rebounds per game.

Senior Logan Woods, a 6-foot-4 guard, ranked second among his teammates with an average of 14.4 points per game. Guard Deshawne Crim, a 6-2 junior, was third in scoring at 12.7 points per game while leading the team with an average of 3.0 assists per game.

While no individual was scoring, rebounding or dishing out assists at an eye-popping pace, Fairfield ranked second in the GMC with an average of 65.1 points per game and led the conference in offensive, defensive and total rebounds.

“We’re getting much better defensively,” Wyrick said. “I feel like we’re not getting enough credit for our defense.”

“What I like about this team is we’re already good, but there’s room for improvement,” said Bronston, whose career-high 24 points included five dunks, the first two on alley-oop passes from Tolbert. “We love each other like family. We’re a brotherhood. I love the way we jell together.”

Wyrick mentioned 6-7 junior Aamir Rogers as an example.

“He’s averaging around 1.5 points per game and somewhere around five rebounds per game, but what he does for us on defense is incredible,” Wyrick said. “If you asked him about it, he’d say it doesn’t matter as long as Fairfield gets the win.”

Against the Cardinals, FHS was led by Owen Bronston’s 24 points. Woods added 12 points and six assists and Tolbert had seven points, seven assists and five rebounds.

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