It was another one of those not-quite-good-enough nights for Middletown High School’s boys basketball team.
The Middies couldn’t get three close-range shots to fall in the last 10 seconds as they lost to Withrow 41-39 in a Division I sectional semifinal Wednesday at the Hamilton Athletic Center.
“It’s kind of a microcosm of the way our year’s gone,” said Middletown coach Darnell Hoskins, whose squad finished 6-17 after the first-game postseason exit. “Our inability to take care of the ball and our inability to finish at critical junctures in the game have hindered us from being as successful as I’m sure we’d like to be.”
BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE
• Nick Graham’s Middletown-Withrow photo gallery
• Moeller 71, Talawanda 20
• OHSAA bounces Dunbar from postseason
Broderick McGhee matched his career high with 10 points and fellow senior E.J. Williams had 9 points, six rebounds and four blocks as the Middies, seeded 21st, took their seventh single-digit loss of the season.
“Losing makes you want to go hard in the tournament. You want to prove everybody wrong because you’re the underdog,” said McGhee, a 6-foot-6 post player. “We went out there with a game plan. We just had to execute it. Some things we didn’t do right, and that’s how it is.
“Honestly, as a senior, you’ve just got to stay humble and move on, keep your head up. That’s the only way to go out. Us seniors, we’re going to try to move on to college and let the juniors, sophomores and freshmen take our spots, and hopefully they don’t make the same mistakes we did.”
Middletown forged a pair of 8-point leads in the third quarter, yet only had two field goals while missing three free throws in the last period.
“Middletown’s record is deceiving as heck because since they got E.J. back, they’ve been a terrific team,” Withrow coach Shaun O’Connell said. “Darnell, Pete (Pullen) and I were all together in the Dayton City League, and anytime you play Pete and Darnell in the tournament, you know it’s going to be an absolute battle. We’re fortunate to be alive.”
Abba Lawal and Mike Hill Jr. tallied 12 points apiece for the 14th-seeded Tigers (16-8). Lawal also collected 16 rebounds and two blocks.
The evening featured a rarity at the prep level — two 6-11 guys, Williams and Lawal, in the same game. O’Connell said there was plenty of length on both sides, making seemingly easy shots a bit more difficult.
Middletown’s Aaron Jones makes a move past Withrow’s Niles Whatley during Wednesday night’s Division I sectional semifinal at the Hamilton Athletic Center. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Hill sank two free throws with 1:14 remaining to put Withrow up 40-39. The Middies misfired on a trio of shots near the basket in the closing seconds, and Hill added another foul shot with 4.2 on the clock.
Middletown, having to go the length of the floor after a timeout, inbounded the ball to Aaron Jones. He took off and was about 30 feet from the basket when he tried to pass ahead to Williams, and the ball went out of bounds as time expired.
“You don’t get better than three point-blank layups, do you?” Hoskins said. “The closer you are to the basket, the more chances you have for success. We just didn’t finish.”
Blake Marshall contributed all 7 of his points in the second half for the Middies, who doubled the Tigers in turnovers (18-9). Withrow overcame 33.3-percent shooting from the field and got 9 second-half points from Ivan Mason.
Middletown coach Darnell Hoskins works the sideline as Withrow’s John Lawrence (10) prepares for a play during Wednesday night’s Division I sectional semifinal at the Hamilton Athletic Center. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
“To our kids’ credit, this is kind of what we’ve been this year,” O’Connell said. “It’s not pretty, but these guys fight. They claw. They compete. They give themselves a chance.
“We had eight seniors last year and only had 2 points a game back this year. I’m proud as hell of our kids.”
The Tigers will return to Hamilton at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday to face top-seeded Moeller (21-3) for a sectional championship. The Crusaders battered Talawanda 71-20 in Wednesday’s nightcap at HHS.
“I know they’re the best program in Ohio, and their track record’s proven it,” O’Connell said. “We’re just excited to go compete against them.”
Withrow’s Abba Lawal lays in a basket between Middletown’s E.J. Williams (35) and Keion Williams (23) on Wednesday night during a Division I sectional semifinal at the Hamilton Athletic Center. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Middletown’s five seniors include Marshall, Keion Williams and Jawunn Bailey. McGhee missed the first half of the season and was happy to be a significant contributor in the tournament game.
“Grades messed up my season, so I had to give them my all. That’s what I tried to do the rest of the year,” McGhee said. “I felt good today. I tried to do everything I could do for my team.”
The Middies finished 8-16 last year in Hoskins’ first season at the helm. He said 2017-18 was a positive step, and he plans to keep assembling a rugged nonconference schedule.
“From a pure coaching standpoint, I look at it and say, ‘Are we making strides in terms of being able to execute as a program?’ And the answer is yes,” Hoskins said. “I’m thoroughly encouraged by that. I think we’ve got a good group coming back, and I’ve got a really good freshman class.
“We’ll get back in the lab 30 days from now and get them bigger and stronger and better conditioned and really pay attention to our under levels as far as skill development. I think that’s what the program sorely lacked when I inherited it. If we can get those things fixed, we stand a chance to get the Middies back where they belong, which is on top.”
MIDDLETOWN (6-17): Aaron Jones 1 3 6, Keion Williams 2 0 5, E.J. Williams 3 3 9, Blake Marshall 2 2 7, Broderick McGhee 4 0 10, Chris Stallworth 1 0 2. Totals: 13-8-39
WITHROW (16-8): Mike Hill Jr. 4 3 12, John Lawrence 1 0 2, Abba Lawal 5 2 12, Dare Moffett 2 0 4, Ivan Mason 4 0 9, Niles Whatley 1 0 2. Totals: 17-5-41
3-pointers: M 5 (McGhee 2, Marshall, Jones, K. Williams), W 2 (Hill, Mason)