By Marc Tobias
The top two seeds from the Liberty-Benton sectional drawing will be squaring off when Celina takes on Lima Senior in Thursday’s Division I district semifinal game at Liberty-Benton High School at 7 p.m.
Celina’s (18-4) game with Lima Senior (17-4) pits a pair of teams with solid defenses that like to pressure the full-length of the court.
Both of those defenses will be tested on Thursday, as Celina’s Tim Homan and Senior’s Travis Walton are a pair of big-time scorers that each squad will most likely need to contain or at least slow down to win.
Homan needs three points to become the Bulldogs’ all-time leading scorer, and Celina coach Mike Kanney said he and the rest of the Bulldogs can expect to see a myriad of defenses.
“He’s got them playing some man and some zone,” Kanney said about Lima Senior. “The last game against Perrysburg they were pressing and then dropping back into some man and 2-3 zone, and they also played a little bit of 1-3-1. They throw a lot of different things at you and their kids do a good job of all of them.”
Kanney added that Senior might also throw some box-and-one or diamond-and-one at them to try and slow down Homan, while Senior’s coach Mike Gaffney said that his squad will try and find Homan early in an effort to make all of his field-goal attempts difficult.
Making opponents take tough shots is something that the Spartans have thrived on thus far this season, as they hold their opponents to 36-percent shooting.
“We play tough, you have to work to score against us,” Gaffney said. “Very rarely do we give up easy baskets in transition or easy baskets in the halfcourt.”
While few teams have been able to handle Senior’s pressure, Kanney hopes that’s what his team can accomplish by recognizing the trapping schemes and moving the ball quickly out of those situations.
“A goal in our game is to make sure we handle their pressure and finish at the other end,” Kanney said. “I think that’s the important thing, a lot of times you beat the pressure and get a shot, but you don’t finish. That’s going to be a goal heading into this game.”
If the Bulldogs do break the Spartans pressure they’ll most likely find 6-foot-8 inch Keith Jackson waiting for them in the paint.
Jackson’s averaging 6.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, but also is a shot-blocking force.
Celina’s been no slouch defensively this season either, and Gaffney said his squad will be ready to adjust to what the Bulldogs throw at them.
“Were a type of team that’s opportunistic, offensively if we have a chance to run we’ll push the basketball,” Gaffney said. “If we don’t have anything we’re pretty organized and we can run sets against both zone and man. We try to get good shots every time down the floor.”
Kanney said he’s expecting the Spartans to try and make this game a track meet, and leading that sprint relay will be Walton.
Senior’s point guard is averaging 20.5 ppg. to go along with over six rebounds, and Gaffney said Michigan State and Marquette have already begun recruiting the junior.
“We have to get our defense set and make sure we get back, because in the open court if Walton gets it and you have your back turned then he’ll go right around you,” Kanney said. “I thought in the Perrysburg (game) if anything I thought maybe their kids focused too much on (Chris) McLellan’s outside shooting and (Leonard) Hutchins, and it allowed Walton to get a lot of easy looks. The other thing was he got a lot of second shots, you have to make sure you get a body on him so he doesn’t get those.”
Walton has scored 36, 36 and 27 points in his last three games.
McLellan (5-11) and Gregory Tyson (6-4) are averaging around 10 ppg. while Tyson’s also grabbing over seven rebounds per contest.
“We have an inside presence this year, last year we didn’t so we can attack you in multiple ways,” Gaffney said. “We’re shooting the ball better which is good so I’m sure it’s going to be a great game on Thursday night.”
The Bulldogs’ Scott Boley and Joe Kanney both already had a chance at guarding an explosive point guard this season when they faced Jamar Butler of Shawnee, and Mike Kanney hopes they can draw on that experience.
“I told our kids not only have we played against Shawnee, but we’ve played against Springfield South and Springfield North who have very athletic teams similar to Lima Senior and we’ve competed against them,” Mike Kanney said. “I don’t think our kids will be intimidated when we play Lima Senior, they know the task at hand and what we have to do.”
Senior has lost four games by a total of 11 points, and the Spartans are averaging roughly 62 ppg. while allowing 51.5 ppg.
“They press a lot, they like to run up and down the floor and their game is transition, they’ve got a nice team,” Mike Kanney said. “We’re going to have some things ready if our man’s not working, but I think that’s our best defense and you have to stick with what brought you there. Obviously if their riddling that then you have to do something else.”