How would the Wayne Warriors respond? They had already proven a lot to their coach by coming back from a big early deficit and by leading for most of the second half.
Then Amari Davis happened again. On a night when the Trotwood Madison star missed only a handful of shots and scored 43 points, he had just forced overtime on a 3-pointer with four seconds left.
So Nathan Martindale reminded his Wayne team that this game was always going to be another fourth-quarter battle like last year’s double-overtime win. His directive: Go out and play hard and smart for another four minutes. “As a coach in December you want to have those types of games to prepare you to have that mental toughness for March,” he said.
The Wayne gymnasium sounded like March and the Warriors played with poise in overtime to beat the Rams for the fourth straight time, sealing a 91-88 victory with clutch shooting and defense.
“When everything’s going against them, when the crowd’s so loud it’s deafening, I feel like our kids really responded and kept the faith and just kept playing possession by possession,” Martindale said. “And that’s a hard thing to do.”
Wayne (5-3, 4-1 GWOC) started overtime by making five of six free throws for an 87-84 lead. Then Rashad McKee, who scored a career-high 34 points, made a 15-footer for an 89-84 lead with 1:27 left. The Rams (5-1, 3-1) trailed 91-88 and worked hard for a steal before going for the foul. Instead, they caused a deflection and a scramble for the ball ensued that resulted in a traveling violation on the Warriors with seven seconds left.
The expectation was that Davis would try to tie the score again with a 3-pointer. But he was well covered and passed to Malachi Mathews, whose shot bounced off the rim at the buzzer. And the Warriors celebrated their third straight win like it was March.
“After a couple losses we had a come-to-Jesus meeting, and we felt that yes, we were a basketball, but we weren’t playing for each other, we weren’t brothers,” McKee said. “After our talk, we feel like we have a better brotherhood and we feel like we can play with anyone in the state now.”
The first quarter didn’t look that way for the Warriors. Davis made nine of 10 shots for 21 points and the Rams built a 29-18 lead. After a big Wayne run in the middle of the second quarter, the lead was down to 46-44 at halftime and Davis had 29 points.
“When we got to halftime, I said at this rate Amari’s going to have 50,” McKee said. “All we need to do is win the game.”
Halfway through the third quarter the Warriors led 59-52 before Davis and Carl Blanton, who scored 21 points, brought the Rams back.
“They outplayed us,” Rams coach Rocky Rockhold said. “They got loose balls that we didn’t get. They got some offensive rebounds when they needed them. We showed some courage to hang around, but we just got outplayed.”
The Rams threw their ball-pressure defense and traps at the Warriors and sped them up. But it never consistently hurt the Warriors, who also got 21 points apiece from Ronnie Hampton and Bobby Cole. They practiced this week against six defenders to simulate the Rams’ defense and led the entire fourth quarter until Davis forced overtime.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Davis said. “But I expected us to get the win.”