By Ryan Hines
FINDLAY -- Neither team ended the regular season with smiles on their faces as each team was dealt a crushing loss in the season finale over the weekend.
The good news was that neither Celina nor Anthony Wayne had any time to feel sorry for themselves with Division I sectional action starting at Liberty-Benton High School on Tuesday night.
Celina was able to disregard its disappointment of losing in a league-title matchup to its rival and the Bulldogs defeated the Generals, 60-55.
The Bulldogs (14-7) earned a rematch with top-seeded Lima Senior on Friday night at 6:15 p.m. With the sectional title hanging in the balance. The Spartans defeated Celina in the championship game of the HALLiday Shootout on Dec. 28th.
"Our kids really wanted this win and battled hard to get it," said Celina head coach Mike Kanney. "We fought hard in the second half and we are going to have to do the same thing on Friday night because Lima Senior is a very good team. "We talked about not letting the disappointment of Friday night carry over because this is a new season for us," continued Kanney. "A letdown was a concern, but it just never happened with this team. I told the seniors that the loss was not going to be their last taste of basketball and that the tournament was next for a fresh start."
It was a difficult first half to watch for Celina fans as the usually
defensively sound squad was torched by an aggressive Anthony Wayne offense.
The Generals were coming off a haunting loss where with four seconds left against Rogers, an Anthony Wayne player called timeout without the team having any left. The ensuing technical foul resulted in a two-point Generals loss.
Brent Papenfuss and Kris Koval seemed to score at will against a passive Bulldogs defense. Papenfuss scored 11 points and Koval scored 10 points to help lead the Generals to a 28-24 half-time advantage.
A poor first-half performance resulted in a tongue lashing by Kanney to his squad at halftime, centering around defensive adjustments.
"Our guys were just getting pushed around in the first half and I made sure that I told them about that at halftime," stated Kanney. "They came out in the second half and did a much better job of not letting that happen. We didn't challenge them in the first half but that all changed after halftime."
The adjustments that Kanney wanted were made very clear according to junior post player Scott Luthman.
"Coach made it really clear to us that we had to play better in the second half because he came in at halftime and just reemed our butts and he sent a strong message to us," said Luthman. "I think that everybody took it to heart and played the way that we can play defensively in the second half."
The adjustments must have worked as Anthony Wayne shot just 9-of-26 (35 percent) in the second half after an 11-of-20 (55 percent) showing in the first half. Papenfuss never scored again the rest of the way and Koval netted just six more points against a refocused Celina defense.
"I would have to say that we played a much better defensive game in the second half and that was the difference for us tonight," said Kanney.
Anthony Wayne led by as many as seven points early in the third quarter but Luthman led the Bulldogs comeback with strong defense in the post and six points on offense.
Luthman played his best game of his short varsity career with a
career-best and game-high 24 points, on 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line.
"He has had some really good games for us this season and recently as well but this was the best game he has played all season long," lauded Kanney. "He had a lot of points, but he made some key rebounds and played hard defensively in the post. He's doing a great job for us. He took it personal at halftime and he really came out on fire in the second half."
"My teammates did a great job of breaking their press and that allowed me to get deep and get some good looks at the basket," said Luthman, who's previous career-high was 20 points earlier this season. "This was a good confidence builder for me especially before we go up against a very good Lima Senior team. They have a lot of size and it will be a big challenge in the post."
While Luthman was clearly the player of the game, teammate Aaron Braun made the play of the game with time ticking down in the third quarter.
Neither team could break a 35-35 tie for the final 1:00 of play until Braun pulled down a defensive rebound, dribbled the ball up the floor to about the 35-foot mark on the floor and banked home an off-balanced three-pointer as the buzzer sounded sending the Celina bench and fans into a frenzy. The 38-35 lead entering the fourth quarter was the first lead of the game for the Bulldogs since a short-lived 18-17 lead early in the second quarter.
"I got the rebound and checked the clock right away and I was looking to see how far I could get with the amount of time left and I got to a position where I could get a shot off," said Braun. "I was looking to bump into the defender and at least draw a foul, but instead it went in. I think that it was a big momentum swing for us because it got the team fired up and everybody went crazy."
"That was obviously a big shot because it gave us the lead and it gave us a lot of momentum," said Kanney.
Luthman then helped the Bulldogs sustain the momentum in the fourth quarter with 10 points alone in the final stanza as the Green and White led by as many as nine points and by no less than three points before the final horn sounded.
Luthman was joined in double figures for the Bulldogs by Braun, who had 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds, Brandon Wurster with 11 points and Seth Staugler with 10 markers.