By Gary R. Rasberry
Celina will play in the finals of the HALLiday Shootout for the ninth straight season after pulling away to beat Bryan, 58-38, in the second semifinal of the Silver Anniversary edition of the Christmas holiday tournament at the Celina Fieldhouse.
The 2-4 Bulldogs will play Worthington Kilbourne in the finals tonight, which are slated to start at 8 p.m. The Wolves moved to the finals after beating North Canton Hoover 70-60 in the opening game on Tuesday. North Canton Hoover and Bryan will play the consolation game at 6 p.m.
The Bulldogs took over the game early in the second quarter and never looked back, winning the game on the boards. Celina more than doubled up the Golden Bears (2-4) on the rebounding charts, outboarding Bryan 44-21.
What made the big difference was offensive rebounds. Celina scored a number of its points on stickbacks as the Bulldogs pulled down 17 offensive boards on the night.
"There's always two things that we work on big time, rebounding and turnovers," said Celina coach Chris Bihn. "Tonight we won big enough rebounding that turnovers (16 for Celina) didn't hurt us as much. They went to the offensive glass hard. We talked about how Bryan gets a lot of offensive boards. We questioned how well they checked out. They went to the glass hard (getting five offensive caroms). We checked out, we kept them off the glass and got offensive boards. That helps out tremendously." The big men for Celina had a field day on the boards. Andy Muhlenkamp and sixth man Justin Chapel combined for 15 rebounds (six offensive) and solid defense in the paint. The pair had identical shooting nights -- 4-of-5 from the floor, 1-of-2 from the foul line -- for nine points each.
"We went out to try and get the ball inside more," said Bihn. "We went out and did that after the first quarter after we saw how they played. That was a strength we had. They did a great job inside."
Celina took the lead for good at the 3:26 mark of the first quarter when Scott Luthman scored to make it 8-7. The Bears kept it close to only trail 13-10 at the first-quarter horn.
Bryan got as close as 15-13 in the second quarter before Celina went on a 9-0 run to push the lead to 24-13, keeping the Bears scoreless for over 21Ú2 minutes. The bench came up big in the stretch as Chapel had four and Eric Loughridge nailed a three-pointer and a deuce to help the Celina cause. Celina pushed the lead to 32-22 at the half.
In the third quarter, Celina went on a 10-0 run to push the margin into the 20-point range. Luthman continued his hot shooting by nailing a three, Derek Gagle added a trey with Chapel coming up big with three big points in the run.
Celina's bench came up solid as Bihn played 12 players in the game. Gagle finished with eight with Loughridge contributing six. Twenty-four of the Bulldogs' 58 points came from the bench.
"Any time you can get some production off the bench, it always helps," said Bihn. "That makes a big difference.
"We came out and played hard tonight. Any time you play a Bryan team, they just come out and play hard with intensity and emotion. That was the emphasis we had tonight. I thought we came out and matched their emotional level. We might have stepped it up a notch and (Bryan) didn't follow."
Luthman set himself up to make a run at the tournament's most valuable player award, finishing the night with 17 points and 14 rebounds -- the only player on either team to reach double figures in the game.
Kolbrin Vitek led the Golden Bears with nine points.
Now Celina will face a Kilbourne team that's loaded with size. Six of the 13 players stand 6-3 or better, led by 6-9 center Ben Gaskill.
"They're going to present a lot of problems," said Bihn of the Wolves. "They're well-coached. They run a lot of nice things. The guards get the ball to where they want it. We're going to have to figure something out. We don't have much time to do it."
Worthington Kilbourne 70, North Canton Hoover 60
Just as Luthman looks to make a run at MVP honors, the Wolves' Austin Dahn put up numbers that could make the difference.
The 6-4 senior scored 12 of his game-high 25 points in the third quarter to help Kilbourne make the finals in their first year at the Shootout.
The game was a tale of contrasts. While Kilbourne looked to get the ball inside to its post players, the Vikings (4-2) hit the long ball, connecting on eight three-pointers to the Wolves' two treys on the evening.
B.J. Elder knocked down four three-pointers on the way to a 17-point night while Barry Shetzer hit three treys to add to his 19 points. Kilbourne had plenty of help for Dahn. Brandon Marting chipped in with 15 points while Jordan Lookabaugh scored 13 points.