VANDALIA — Columbus Watterson, quite literally, was an XXL, big-and-tall challenge for second-ranked Chaminade Julienne in Thursday night’s Division II regional semifinal.
Before the Eagles could think about playing Alter for a third time and a chance at going to state, they had to knock Watterson’s 6-foot-7, 290-pound center, Cole Rhett, down to size. They had to stop him from turning the low post into Camp Rhett. Because if what he did in the first quarter continued he was on pace for a 40-point night.
Rhett scored 10 of his 20 points in the first quarter, and one person couldn’t stop him. The Eagles led by two after the first eight minutes, but they needed an answer for Rhett. They started double-teaming him when he got the ball and it started to work, making others have to hit jump shots. And the Eagles started to gain a little separation on the scoreboard.
Most importantly, the Eagles survived with a 57-45 victory to face archrival Alter for the third time this season and for the first time in a regional final. They filled up Centerville High School earlier this season, and they will probably do it again at 7 p.m. Saturday at Butler High School. The winner advances to the state tournament next weekend at UD Arena.
“I’m definitely excited,” said CJ senior guard Evan Dickey. “Those are my friends. Most of them I’ve been knowing my whole life. We know them, they know us. So it’s just who’s going to want it more.”
The Eagles had to want Thursday night’s game first. When the guards started to double down on Rhett, he still tried to score but managed only two points in the second quarter. Then he started passing out of the double team, but CJ recovered quickly to shooters. The Eagles started to gain control and built a 28-23 halftime lead. On the last play of the half, George Washington III blocked Rhett’s shot from behind.
“Give credit to him,” CJ coach Charlie Szabo said of Rhett. “We had one game plan on him, and he proved that he could do more than we thought. We had to start doubling him. We didn’t execute it that great early, but by the end of the game, we were doubling and rotating around and doing what we practiced.”
CJ all but settled the outcome with a 17-8 third quarter to lead 45-31 entering the fourth. B.B. Washington opened the half with an alley-oop dunk. Dickey closed the half with another alley-oop dunk, this one in transition off an underhand toss from George Washington, and two free throws with no time on the clock.
George Washington, the Michigan signee, scored 21 points to lead the Eagles, Dickey scored 18, and B.B. Washington scored 10. They combined for seven of CJ’s eight 3-pointers.
Still, Watterson wouldn’t go away. They cut the lead to eight twice and then seven with 3:22 left. Rhett was perfect on six free throws in that stretch, but CJ closed it out with free throws.
“When the game got to 10 to 12, I thought we had a couple of really good looks,” Szabo said. “We could have stretched it. We didn’t make them and let them hang around and they didn’t go away.
“I really think we earned that tonight. They were physical, they were ready, that big kid’s a load. That’s a gritty win.”
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