LIBERTY TWP. — Do not look for Lakota East High School’s boys basketball team to back down from top-ranked Moeller, the defending Division I state champion.
East may or may not beat the Crusaders in Wednesday’s 6:15 p.m. regional semifinal at Xavier University’s Cintas Center, but the Thunderhawks plan to be as competitive as they were in a 61-53 loss to Moeller on Jan. 20.
“They’re not going to be scared, they’re not going to be intimidated,” East coach Clint Adkins said. “Moeller’s really good. We respect what they do, but at the same time, we’re not going to put our tails between our legs and be soft.”
DISTRICT BASKETBALL COVERAGE
The Thunderhawks had a seven-point lead in the second half of that first meeting, which took place at the Midwest King Classic in Middletown.
East shot 58.3 percent from the field, but Moeller shot 64.1 percent, doubled the Thunderhawks on the boards and collected 24 points off turnovers.
“They’re better in transition than anybody we’ll play,” Adkins said. “Good teams put four-point spurts on you. Great teams like them put 12-, 15-, 18-point spurts on you and then it’s over.
“If we’re turning the ball over in this game, we have no chance. To me, the two biggest keys to victory are, do we take care of the basketball and do we block out and rebound well? If we can do those two things well, we’ve got an opportunity to win.”
The Crusaders’ increased defensive pressure led to East committing nine of its 15 turnovers in the second half in January.
“We are blessed that way,” Moeller coach Carl Kremer said of his team’s transition skills and ability to transform turnovers into points. “The thing is, it’s just not very easy to do that against Lakota East. They’re solid. All their kids handle the ball. I think like most big games, it’ll come down to who plays better in the halfcourt and who grinds it out.”
Ranked 25th nationally by USA Today, the Crusaders (25-0) are riding a 45-game winning streak. They’ve had two opponents, East and Chaminade Julienne (62-55), finish within single digits on the scoreboard this season.
Senior forward Alec Pfriem (14.2) and senior guard Miles McBride (14.0) are Moeller’s leading scorers. They’re part of a starting lineup — senior forward Michael Shipp, junior forward Max Land and sophomore center Logan Duncomb are the others — that’s hit the floor the same way in every game except Senior Night this year.
They range in size from 6-foot-2 (McBride) to 6-8 (Duncomb).
“One thing I really like about our ballclub is we really feel comfortable playing eight guys,” said Kremer, mentioning sophomore forwards Alex Williams and Will McCracken, along with junior forward Michael Currin. “We really believe we have a starting eight.”
The Crusaders have two players committed collegiately this point, McBride (West Virginia) and Pfriem (Bellarmine). East senior forward Bash Wieland and Pfriem will be teammates next season.
Kremer said Moeller is playing some of its best basketball right now. The Crusaders flattened Winton Woods 57-15 last Saturday at the University of Dayton Arena.
The running clock made the second half of that contest fly by, according to Kremer.
“Everything just went our way,” he said. “But our kids understand there’s nothing about Saturday that has anything to do with Wednesday. Wednesday night is a game that will take on its own story and its own drama and you don’t know exactly what that’s going to be, so you have to be prepared for everything.
“We like how we’re playing right now. We actually felt we went through a little bit of a swoon in January and liked how we played in February. The beginning of the tournament was tough because we were playing some teams that just could not match up with us.
“It’s hard going through a season being the hunted, so we try to turn that mentality around. Even though people on the outside see us as the hunted, we certainly want our kids to play as though they’re the hunters. It’s difficult if you let the mind-set be that everyone’s coming after you.”
Wieland (19.2) and senior guard Will Johnston (10.0) are the top scorers for the Thunderhawks (20-5). They’ve won 10 of their last 11 games.
This is East’s third regional appearance. The first two resulted in losses to Westerville South (64-58 in 2011) and Centerville (37-36 in 2016).
“As a public school to be in the regionals again, that’s a really special thing,” Adkins said. “It’s hard for private schools, but it’s even harder for public schools to get here. These kids have grown up together. They’ve been in school together the whole tie. Their achievement is really, really important to our community.”
That regional run in ’16 included a 60-57 toppling of Wayne in the district finals. The Warriors were the defending state champions, on a 33-game winning streak and ranked 10th by USA Today.
“This is a very similar setup to the Wayne game,” Adkins said. “What we said then was, ‘We need to get to the fourth quarter. If we can get to the fourth quarter and we’re close, you’re going to hear the momentum swing and everybody’s going to be cheering for you.’
“I think it’s the same here. I don’t think anybody expects us to win except for us and our guys. If you have doubt and don’t believe you can win, you’re not going to win. But I think our guys believe they can win this game.”
Here’s the box from the first meeting:
Jan. 20, 2019
Moeller 61, Lakota East 53
Lakota East 17-10-17-9—53
LAKOTA EAST (53): Nick Holtman 1 0 2; Kaden Fuhrmann 4 0 11; Bash Wieland 9 1 22; Will Johnston 3 1 9; Grant Spicer 3 1 7; Nate Johnson 1 0 2. Totals: 21-3-53
MOELLER (61): Alec Pfriem 11 2 25; Miles McBride 6 3 15; Max Land 1 3 5; Logan Duncomb 1 2 4; Will McCracken 5 0 10; Alex Williams 1 0 2. Totals: 25-10-61
3-pointers: L 8 (Wieland 3, Fuhrmann 3, Johnston 2), M 1 (Pfriem)