Top-ranked Moeller built a big first-half lead and held off a valiant Centerville comeback effort to extend its winning streak to 25 games with a 54-42 win at Xavier University’s Cintas Center in Wednesday’s Division I regional semifinals.
Freshman guard Gabe Cupps scored nine of his team-high 18 points in fourth quarter while Centerville was cutting a 24-point third-quarter deficit to nine, 49-40, with 1:10 left in the game, but the Crusaders went 5-for-6 on free throws in the last minute to clinch the win.
“I thought we were OK in the first quarter, but we made some turnovers and got a little passive with the ball in the second quarter,” coach Brook Cupps said after a lengthy post-game locker room visit with his team. “We weren’t attacking. In the second half, we played the way we normally play. We just didn’t play with that mindset the whole game.”
This was the second straight year Moeller (26-1) eliminated Centerville (15-12) at the regional level. The Crusaders beat the Elks, 59-41, in last season’s regional final and earned a 57-46 win on Jan. 4 this season.
Moeller’s stifling defense kept Centerville without a field goal for one second shy of 11 minutes, from Gabe Cupps’s driving layup at 4:22 of the first quarter that tied the score at 5-5 to his 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:23 left in the second quarter. The Crusaders used the slump to put together a 20-2 run, opening up a commanding 25-7 lead.
The Elks finished the half shooting 20 percent (3-of-15) from the field, including 12.5 percent (1-of-8) on 3-pointers. The Crusaders shot a blistering 68.8 percent (11-of-16) from the field while outscoring Centerville, 16-4, in the paint and forcing nine Elks turnovers, including two steals at midcourt that led to dunks on back-to-back possessions midway through the second quarter by Land and Williams.
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Led by Cupps’s four points, the Elks scored as many points in the third quarter as the squeezed out in the entire first half, cutting Moeller’s lead from 24 points with 5:41left in th the quarter to 20 by the end of the period.
Coach Cupps described the post-game locker room as emotional.
“It always is when you’re playing for the last time – when the seniors play their last game,” he said. “We thanked the seniors for what they accomplished. We were outright (Greater Western Ohio Conference) champs. We won back-to-back district championships. You try to recognize that. You know it happens during the season, but you’re always moving on to the next game. We thanked the seniors for helping bring the young kids along, and we remind the younger guys of what they need to do to accomplish what they want to accomplish – that they have to double down on their commitment.”
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