Monday, February 17th, 2014
By Bruce Monnin
T-Birds edge Bulldogs in OT
  CELINA - Lima Central Catholic and Celina had the fans on the edge of their seats on Saturday night but it was the Thunderbirds' fans that left the Fieldhouse happy.
LCC rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime and then outscored the Bulldogs 13-7 in the extra session to earn an 89-83 victory.
The Thunderbirds (16-4) entered the game ranked eighth in the most recent Division III state poll, and LCC opened the game with a 12-2 lead that had the Celina faithful worried early. However, the Bulldogs used a fantastic offensive display to turn the game into a tense, overtime classic.
Celina (13-7) shot 74 percent from the field through the first three quarters to survive the early deficit and took a 62-56 lead into the final period. With four minutes remaining, two Ryan Hoyng free throws increased the lead to eight points. At that point, the Thunderbirds turned up the defensive pressure, forced a few turnovers and outscored the Bulldogs 11-2 in just a minute and a half to retake the lead at 74-73.
Neither team scored for the next two minutes, until Hoyng got the ball down low with 21 seconds remaining. He was fouled during his shot, which hung on the rim before rolling off. Hoyng was able to make both free throws to give Celina a one-point advantage.
LCC's Dantez Walton answered with two of his 20 points when he made a short shot with just 10 seconds remaining. With time running out, the Bulldogs again forced the ball to the basket where Logan Delong was fouled with only 1.3 seconds left in regulation. He missed the first shot and then had to wait through an LCC timeout for the chance to send the game into overtime. Delong made 9-of-11 from the charity stripe in the game, including the game-tying one that forced the extra session.
The Thunderbirds took the early lead in overtime on baskets by Martyce Kimbrough and Xavier Simpson. Trailing with time running out, Celina was in a quandary.
"When they were on top, they pulled the ball out and spread it out," explained Celina coach Chris Bihn. "We were running junk defenses on them, but when they did that, we had to guard them man, and we're not quick enough to guard them man. They did a nice job down the stretch of knocking down free throws and taking care of the ball."
Unable to steal the ball, the Bulldogs were forced to foul. Kimbrough and Simpson made seven of their eight free throws to ice the 89-83 overtime victory.
The game started well for the Thunderbirds as they dominated both down low and beyond the three-point arc. After less than three minutes, LCC was ahead 12-2, before Delong and Alex Schiavone responded with back-to-back three-pointers. LCC was unfazed, and went on to lead 25-15 after the first period.
"We gave up too many offensive boards and had too many turnovers," said Bihn. "It was very physical with lots of reaching and holding, on both sides. Our guys became accustomed to it, but I don't think early on we were ready for it."
Both sides traded baskets for much of the second quarter. While Celina inched closer, it still trailed 42-39 at halftime despite making 15 of their 20 shots from the field, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc and all four free-throw attempts.
The beginning of the third quarter saw an offensive explosion from Delong. He posted 12 of his 27 points for the game in the first three and a half minutes to give the Bulldogs a 53-51 lead.
"We talked at halftime about getting it inside," said Bihn. "Logan got down in there and scored and things started snowballing for him. We were running sets to make sure we were getting him touches and he executed very well and embraced that role."
Once they had the lead, Celina got scores from both Ryan Hoyng and Caleb Hoyng to extend their advantage to 60-51. After a couple of LCC baskets, Mason Ross scored as the quarter ended to give the Bulldogs a 62-56 lead. However, the lead was not enough to survive the Thunderbirds' fourth-quarter comeback.
The Bulldogs return to action Friday when they travel to Elida with a chance to win at least a share of the Western Buckeye League title.
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