GAHANNA — The Centerburg Trojans finally learned a lesson coach Jim Simpson has been trying to teach them all season long — how to put a team away.
Locked in a dogfight with the Amanda-Clearcreek Aces on Wednesday night, the Trojans scored the last seven points to knock off the Aces, 63-52, in a Division III Sectional game at Gahanna-Lincoln High School. All seven points came from the free-throw line as did the other 10 points in the quarter. In all, Amanda-Clearcreek gave the Trojans 36 opportunities, of which they converted 26.
“The first game is always a tough game; it doesn’t matter who you play, it is always a tough game,” said coach Simpson. “We knew they were going to be big and physical, and be able to hold their own. I wanted to get the tempo going a little bit better, and we did at times in the first half, but then we let them control it again. We did a great job of crashing the offensive boards in the second half, and we hit some free throws.”
The Aces showed right from the start that they were there to play, jumping out to a 9-3 lead in the first three-plus minutes. Max Corcoran fueled the Aces with four points and a pair of assists. Centerburg’s only points came off a 3-pointer by Skyler Simpson. The Trojans pulled ahead with 16 seconds to go with a 9-2 run of their own, getting a layup from Brandt Lambert and seven points by Lyle Lindsey. Brock Rose gave Amanda-Clearcreek the lead after one, however, hitting a 3-pointer with four seconds to play.
“We’ve been struggling with our confidence over the last couple of games, and letting people hang with us,” said Lindsey. “We did the same thing tonight, but we were prepared. We got a lot of help from the refs, and we were able to hit some shots.”
From there, the teams traded shots over the next six minutes. Alan Andrix hit four straight buckets for the Aces in that stretch, while Centerburg got two big 3s from Garrison Myles and single 3s from Lindsey and Drew Osborne. A jumper by Andrix put the Aces up, 28-27, with 2:11 to go, but fouls helped Centerburg go ahead before the half. Lindsey and Troy Lemke each hit a pair of free throws, and Lambert had a three-point play to make it a 34-30 game at the break.
“We were trying so hard to get some good shots off, and they weren’t really there,” said coach Simpson. “We finally got into a rhythm as the game went on, and our guys realized what shots were there.”
As strong as Amanda-Clearcreek played in the first half, they struggled in the third quarter. Andrix had a pair of buckets and Corcoran added a jumper, but that was all of their scoring in the first seven minutes of play. Centerburg, meanwhile, got a pair of buckets from Simpson and a 3-pointer from Lemke to help open a 10-point lead, 46-36, with 1:12 to go. The Aces scored twice in the final minute to pull within six after three.
They kept that momentum heading into the fourth quarter, scoring the first five points to pull within one, 46-45, with 5:29 to play.
“I just kept thinking, ‘Here we go again,’” said coach Simpson. “We’ve been in that situation before and we let it slip away. We called a timeout and reminded the kids to take care of the basketball and not panic.”
That was as close as the Aces got, however, as fouls began to mount against them. Lambert hit a pair of free throws to ignite a 7-1 spurt to re-establish a lead. Amanda-Clearcreek picked up its 10th foul of the half during the run, however, meaning Centerburg was in the double bonus for the last 4:20 of the game. The Trojans took advantage, going 15-of-20 at the foul line down the stretch to seal the 63-52 win.
“This is what we’ve been looking for,” coach Simpson said. “It is nice to finally finish off a close game.”
Lindsey led Centerburg in scoring with 17 points. Lambert had 12 points, five rebounds and two steals; Lemke finished with 10 points; and Simpson had nine points and eight rebounds. Myles had seven points, and Osborne finished with six points and six rebounds. T.T. Thompson had six assists.
“Lyle can step in and knock some big shots down,” said coach Simpson. “The kid loves to play basketball; he lives for it. He did some good things for us. Our other guys did a good job of getting him open so he could get those looks too.”
Andrix led Amanda-Clearcreek with 20 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Corcoran added 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and Rose had 10 points.
With the win, Centerburg advances to a Friday matchup with Africentric at Gahanna. The Nubians beat Northridge, 53-39, in the late game on Wednesday night. Simpson and his team knows stopping the Nubians won’t be an easy task.
“This is going to be huge,” said Lindsey. “Our second goal is to get to the Barn. Our first one was to win the (Mid-Buckeye Conference) championship, and we did that. Now we have to win again to get our second one.”