OHSAA boys basketball: Pickerington Central beats Centerville for Division I state title

DAYTON — Whether the Pickerington Central boys basketball team pulled an upset in winning its first Division I state championship in 10 years is debatable.

The Tigers didn’t seem to think so.

Another balanced performance — on the biggest stage of the season — helped the Tigers hold off defending champion and previously undefeated Centerville 55-48 in the state final March 20 at University of Dayton Arena.

Pickerington Central coach Eric Krueger hoists the Division I championship trophy as his players celebrate a 55-48 win over Centerville in the OHSAA Division I state final game March 20 at UD Arena in Dayton.

Devin Royal scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the second half and Josh Harlan added 11 for Central, which finished 26-2 and won the program’s second championship.

“I let the game come to me,” said Royal, who played the final 3 minutes, 6 seconds with four fouls. “I wouldn’t say we felt like underdogs. We were thought of as underdogs, but we knew we were going to come out here and do our thing. It was going to be a dogfight all the way.”

Pickerington Central's Devin Royal puts up a shot over Centerville's Eli Greenburg during the OHSAA Division I state final game March 20 at UD Arena in Dayton.

After leading by as many as 11 points midway through the third quarter, the Tigers withstood several runs from an Elks team that had won 45 consecutive games dating to Jan. 30, 2021.

Centerville got within two points late in the third and one on two occasions midway through the fourth but Central consistently answered.

A Gavin Headings layup with 1:43 left gave the Tigers a 48-43 lead.

Tom House’s 3-pointer made it 48-46, but Harlan, Royal and Juwan Turner went 7-for-8 at the free-throw line in the final minute to seal the outcome.

The Elks ultimately were doomed by their cold shooting. Centerville, which was led by 14 points from Indiana commit Gabe Cupps and 12 from Rich Rolf, finished 19-for-48 (39.6 percent) from the floor.

“I felt a lot of confidence from our guys coming into the game. I can’t put my finger on it but I felt like if we could do what we’ve been doing defensively, we could slow them down and make it really hard,” Tigers coach Eric Krueger said. “We were able to contest more shots and we talked a lot about that coming in. We emphasized contesting as many of those shots as we could.”

Pickerington Central's Devin Royal cuts down the net following a 55-48 win over Centerville in the OHSAA Division I state final game March 20 at UD Arena in Dayton.

Central, on the other hand, shot 21-for-35 (60 percent).

Despite making two of 10 field-goal attempts in the second quarter, Centerville never trailed by more than five points in the first half and was within two until the halftime buzzer. Sonny Styles missed a 3-pointer, but Headings was underneath the basket and tapped in the rebound to make it 21-17 at halftime.

Pickerington Central senior Nick Buoni reaches out for Central's Amare Spiva as the team rushes the student section to celebrate a 55-48 win over Centerville in the OHSAA Division I state final game March 20 at UD Arena in Dayton.

Central’s lead peaked at 33-22 halfway through the third on a Harlan 3-pointer, but the Elks ended the quarter on a 12-3 run paced by 3-pointers from House and Ryan Kenney. House, a Florida State recruit, missed his first seven shots of the night but finished with 11 points.

“I knew we weren’t just going to go out and pull away from them,” Centerville coach Brook Cupps said. “I knew they were going to respond. We had a possession where we took a bad shot, or at least one we didn’t want, and we were having trouble getting stops. That isn’t usually one of our issues.”

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