NEWARK — At the Division III boys basketball postseason draw a couple of weeks ago, all East Knox High School coach Don McDaniel wanted was to put his team into a position where it could find some postseason success. After the Bulldogs won their first tournament game on Tuesday night, McDaniel’s wish was coming true.
The tournament road came to an end on Saturday night, however. The Bulldogs fell to the Grandview Heights Bobcats in a hard-fought contest, 43-39. The Bulldogs had their chances to win the game, leading after three quarters, but a 14-1 run by Grandview Heights gave it a lead it did not relinquish. East Knox pulled within three, 40-37, with 29 seconds to go on a 3-pointer by Drew Faucett, but that was as close as it could get.
“This is very disappointing in the fact that I thought we had a good draw, had two winnable games,” said McDaniel. “We struggled a little bit in the first game against Berne Union, but we were able to get a win. I thought we played very well tonight, but in some key areas of the game, we had a letdown. We missed some key shots and they made them. Once we got behind, we had to play catch-up. Their half-court press hurt us a little bit. It is just a very disappointing game in the aspect that we have four seniors who are going home after a game we had a very good chance to win.”
The Bobcats (16-5) struck first, getting 1-of-2 free throws from senior David Geygan. East Knox (9-13) answered with a putback by Luke Branstool, a 3-pointer from Colton Tucker and a free throw by Khai Haralson to take a 6-1 lead. Grandview Heights then managed to score three buckets over the next 4 1/2 minutes to take a 7-6 lead. Tony Johnson hit a jumper for East Knox with two seconds left to give the Bulldogs the lead after one.
Branstool and Grandview Heights’ Jay Wells proceeded to trade buckets — and the lead — over the first five minutes of the second quarter. Two free throws by Nick McCamment put East Knox up, 14-13, with 3:13 to go, but the Bobcats closed the quarter by scoring the last six points to go ahead, 19-14, at halftime.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well in the first half. East Knox was just 5-of-21 from the field, while the Bobcats were slightly better at 8-of-25. Each team made 3-of-4 free throws attempted.
“At halftime, we talked about our shot selection,” McDaniel said. “Looking at their defense, I didn’t think they were as disciplined as most No. 8 seeds would be. I thought we could run our offense, get some movement down inside and have some success. In the first half, when we did that, we knocked some shots down. The ones that we missed were quick shots and were out of our offense.”
Down by five, East Knox came out of the locker room with an improved focus in the second half, and pulled back ahead of Grandview Heights after three. Haralson hit a jumper to get things started, and McCamment then drilled a 3-pointer off a pass from Tucker. A Bobcat turnover set up a layin by Branstool just four seconds later and a putback by Haralson gave East Knox a 23-19 lead.
Grandview Heights tied the game at 23 just over a minute later, but a jumper by Branstool and a 3-pointer from Tucker made it 28-23 ball game. Freshman Andy Treasure gave the Bobcats a boost off the bench, hitting a free throw, and Geygan hit a 3-pointer with 1:44 left to make it a one-point game, 28-27, going into the final quarter.
Those two scores before the end of the third quarter gave Grandview Heights momentum heading into the final period. The Bobcats scored 10 of the next 11 points to establish an eight-point lead with 3:12 to play. To the Bulldogs’ credit, however, they made a game of it.
“The fourth quarter was very, very physical,” said McDaniel. “I don’t want to put any blame on the stripes or anything, but I thought we were getting mugged when we went inside. It is tough to make your shots at that point.”
Faucett hit his first 3-pointer of the game 30 seconds later, and after trading buckets, did a little sidestep and hit his second 3 to make it a three-point game, 40-37, with 29 seconds to play. The Bulldogs were forced to foul, and Grandview Heights hit three out of four to push the lead back to six, 43-37, with 18 seconds to play. McCamment hit a pair of free throws with 17.3 seconds to go to close out the scoring.
“Drew is a very smart basketball player; he has got great peripheral vision,” McDaniel said. “He saw the guy coming and made a big play. That’s what we needed. Unfortunately, we came up a little short. I’m just disappointed for our four seniors that it had to end this way.”
Branstool, in his final high school game, finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and four blocks. McCamment added seven points, and Faucett and Tucker had six points apiece. Haralson finished with five points and four rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Wells led Grandview Heights with game highs in points (18) and rebounds (17). Geygan added 12 points and two steals.
The Bobcats advance to the Division III District Semifinal on Wednesday at the Columbus Fairgrounds Coliseum. They will face Bishop Ready, which was a 61-32 winner over Columbus Academy on Saturday, in the 6:15 p.m. game.