Boys basketball: Fairmont rallies past Xenia to score tourney win

Fairmont's Dasan Doucet shoots while Xenia's Zack Gaither (1), Damien Weaver (12) and Dylan Hoosier (4) look on during Friday night's Division I sectional game at Centerville High School. Fairmont advanced with a 68-48 victory.  Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Fairmont's Dasan Doucet shoots while Xenia's Zack Gaither (1), Damien Weaver (12) and Dylan Hoosier (4) look on during Friday night's Division I sectional game at Centerville High School. Fairmont advanced with a 68-48 victory. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

CENTERVILLE – Overcoming the COVID-19 interruptions has been a challenge for every team this high school basketball season. In the Greater Western Ohio Conference, no boys team had it worse than Fairmont, which entered Division I tournament play Friday night with a 4-8 record.

With only 12 games played, Firebirds coach Kenny Molz has had to push his young team (two juniors and three sophomores in the starting lineup) hard this month to be tournament ready.

“A lot of times teams don’t start trusting each other until late in the year,” Molz said. “We have to fast-forward that and speed that up with the less reps we’ve had compared to other teams.”

Firebirds leading scorer Anthony Johnson said, “It’s meant a lot less bonding. That’s really it right there.”

After playing on Jan. 15, the Firebirds didn’t play again until Feb. 5 and lost big to Centerville. The following week they lost to Wayne by a respectable 10 points, then 41-26 to Beavercreek in a game Molz described as hitting rock bottom. But the next night, the Firebirds went to Springfield and stunned the surging Wildcats 67-64.

With four days of practice to prepare, the Firebirds expected to start fast against Xenia on Friday. But in the middle of the second quarter, the Firebirds trailed by 12 points. They ran their offense for almost a minute before Molz called timeout.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to play,’” Molz said. “‘This is it. We can’t decide we’re going to do something in the second half. We’ve got to go now.’”

If the team that emerged from that timeout shows up in the next round, Molz might finally have the team he knew he could have this season. And just in time.

Johnson hit a 3-pointer out of the timeout to start a 13-2 run to close the half and cut Xenia’s lead to one. The Firebirds were just getting started. They scored the first 24 points of the second half for an overall run of 37-2 and coasted to a 68-48 victory.

The No. 10-seeded Firebirds (5-8) meet No. 3 Miamisburg (15-7) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Centerville. The Vikings beat the Firebirds 55-44 on Dec. 18.

“I do like our chances,” said Johnson, a junior guard. “We’re a lot more polished as a team offensively and defensively. I feel like we’re a lot more together now.”

The key difference after the momentum-changing timeout was a change in offensive mindset.

“When we run our motion, sometimes we have a tendency to not look at the rim when the opportunity is there,” Molz said. “We move the ball, but then they start getting into a lull where they’re just passing, passing, passing. I told them to look at the rim on every touch. We’ve got to be vertical with our attack.”

Xenia coach Kent Anderson was hoping halftime would wake up his 15th-seeded Buccaneers (9-11) after it gave up a 12-point lead to close the half.

“They just came out and blitzed us in the third,” he said. “They really attacked the rim well and defended well. We just didn’t handle it.”

Sophomores Logan Adams and Cadyn Hower started the second half with 3-pointers. Then Johnson took over with the next 10 points on back-to-back 3-pointers and two steals that led to two free throws and a layup. The lead was 52-29 before Xenia scored again.

Johnson scored a game-high 20 points, Hower had 12 and Dasan Doucet had 11. Dylan Hoosier led Xenia with 19 points and Josiah Harding had 10.

“There’s a brand-new focus,” Johnson said. “We just have a new sense of urgency.”

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