Centerville is not the same team that was schooled at Cincinnati Moeller more than two months ago. So says someone who has played a big role in that transformation: 6-foot-9 junior center Mo Njie.
“Moeller, the first time it was rough,” he said after a super-charged 67-63 defeat of nemesis Springfield in a boys high school basketball Division I regional semifinal at Xavier University’s Cintas Center on Wednesday night.
“This time around, we’re a lot better and stronger and we’re a lot more physical. We know how to play ball with each other now. When we go attacking now, it’s going to be different.”
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“Big Mo” unloaded his untapped best on Springfield, going for 14 points, 12 rebounds, 12 blocks and altering just as many other Wildcats’ shots. It was a dominating performance the Elks had seen prior glimpses of, but never in a game of this magnitude.
“He’s a huge part of what we do and we’re thankful he’s on our side,” beamed Centerville coach Brook Cupps. “I’m thankful other people get to see it in this setting.”
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Davis Mumaw led the Elks with 15 points. Jason Sneed added 12 points and Ryan Ballard 11 points and seven rebounds. Senior David Sanford led the Wildcats with 20 points. Ra’Heim Moss concluded his outstanding Springfield career with 16 points and four assists.
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Springfield should have known what was coming in Njie. He went for nine points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks in the Elks’ blowout win at Springfield on Feb. 1.
“He came on strong,” Springfield coach Isaiah Carson said. “We kept attacking and going at him and he did a great job. What can you do?”
Centerville (22-5) will play defending D-I state champ and unbeaten Moeller (26-0) in Saturday’s 7 p.m. regional final at the Cintas. That winner advances to next week’s state final four at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center. Moeller bopped Lakota East 47-33 in the D-I regional semi opener on Wednesday.
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Centerville will bring an 18-game win streak against Moeller. Ironically, Moeller was the last team to beat Centerville, laying a 54-33 decision on the visiting Elks way back on Jan. 5. Moeller hasn’t lost to an Ohio team since the 2017 D-I state final to Massillon Jackson.
However, Centerville will be without starting senior guard Ryan Marchal against Moeller. The hard-edged leader of the Elks, he drew two technical fouls within 33 seconds of the final 1:09 against Springfield. Ohio High School Athletic Association rules require players or coaches to be suspended for the team’s next two games if receiving two techs.
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Centerville athletic director Rob Dement confirmed the Elks appealed to the OHSAA about the calls on Thursday morning and Marchal’s two-game suspension was upheld. The only way Marchal could play again is if Centerville beats Moeller and wins a state semifinal, then plays for a D-I state championship on Saturday, March 23.
Centerville last played in a regional final in 2016, losing to Wilmington after defeating Lakota East a semi. It was the fourth time in the last five seasons Springfield ventured this deep into the postseason. Like all those other times, the Wildcats endured a long bus ride home wondering what might have been.
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It also was the third time Centerville and Springfield (17-10) played after splitting two regular-season games, each losing at home. This time Centerville held a double-digit lead in the second quarter and maintained a lead throughout.
Cupps was miffed about the likeliness of losing Marchal for the regional final, but otherwise proud of the Elks.
“One of their goals to start the season was to move the program forward,” he said. “Games like (Moeller) is a step forward. That mindset and resiliency these guys showed (against Springfield) is progress in our program.”
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