The Centerville High School boys basketball team is back in the Division I district finals for the first time since 2017 — and they did it with defense.
The Elks game plan against Xenia — stop Buccaneers standout Samari Curtis at all costs — was obvious to everyone in the gymnasium. For three quarters, the Elks plan worked to perfection.
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Centerville jumped out to a big lead in the second half and held off a furious charge from Curtis and the Buccaneers en route to a 63-51 victory in a Division I sectional final on Friday night at Trotwood-Madison High School.
Matt Pearce scored 23 points and Ryan Marchal added 14 for the Elks (20-5), who won their 16th straight game. They advanced to play Mason in a D-I district final game at a time to be determined on Saturday night at University of Dayton Arena. The Comets beat Milford 60-50.
Curtis had a game-high 24 points, but scored 19 in the fourth quarter.
The Elks face-guarded Curtis all over the floor with senior Jason Sneed, who did his best to keep the ball out of the University of Cincinnati commit’s hands. Curtis entered the game averaging 33.8 points per game, but scored five points in the first three quarters.
“He’s such a good player, you have to limit his touches,” said Elks coach Brook Cupps. “I thought Jason did an incredible job on him. He’s athletic enough to challenge him. He contested a lot of shots from Samari that maybe haven’t been contested in other games.”
Meanwhile, Pearce scored nine points in the first half to give the Elks a 31-21 at the half.
“He’s an offensive threat,” Cupps said. “When he shoots it, we think it’s going in all the time. I thought he played with that kind of confidence and mindset tonight. He’s got as green a light as anyone we’ve ever had. If he’s open, we’re telling him to shoot it.”
Centerville led by as many as 20 in the fourth quarter. The Bucs turned up the pressure in the fourth quarter, getting easy buckets in transition off of turnovers.
Xenia cut the lead to eight points, but they couldn’t get any closer. Sophomore Dylan Hoosier scored 14 points for Bucs, who finished the season 13-11.
“(Samari) has seen about every defense imaginable,” said Xenia coach Kent Anderson. “It just took him a little while to get on track and we needed some others to step. I thought (Hoosier) and Jate Bradley did that at times. Once Samari got going in the fourth, we were down 20.”
Curtis played his final game for Xenia. He finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer and could be in the running for Ohio’s top honor, Mr. Basketball.
“The one thing I really tried to do this season is not take him for granted,” Anderson said. “He does so many things that you just get used to it. The kid is truly special. He can score every which way you can possibly score. The leadership he brought to this group was just tremendous. He’s a once in a lifetime player. It’s been a privilege to have him in our program.”
The Elks last played Mason in the 2017 district tournament, falling to the Comets 44-38.
“They’re good and they’re really well-coached,” Cupps said. “They’ll run flex and they’ll guard you man-to-man, make it tough for you to score.”
Centerville began the season 4-5, but haven’t lost since falling to D-I state poll champion Moeller 55-34 on Jan. 5.
“This group has done a great job,” Cupps said. “10 games in, I sure as heck didn’t think we’d be in the district finals or much else, really. They’ve really bought into doing their jobs and accepting their roles. It’s been a fun group to work with.”
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