Girls basketball: Waynesville falls to nationally-ranked Africentric in D-3 title game

Saturday’s expected coronation of Columbus Africentric as an elite national team and the presumed Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III girls basketball state champion hit a widely unexpected orange and black barrel.

Thought by many to be overwhelmed and overmatched, Waynesville grinded out a second-quarter lead before succumbing 51-47 to the Nubians in the state championship before a crowd of 3,119 at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.

The game featured the only two remaining undefeated teams in Ohio.

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Africentric, No. 4 in the country in the MaxPreps national rankings, finishes the season 28-0. The state title is the program’s second in a row and seventh overall (all since 2007), which ties the Nubians for first all-time in state history (with Pickerington Central).

Waynesville, playing in its second state tournament, finishes 27-1. The Spartans lost in the 2005 state semifinals.

It was Africentric’s second closest game of the season. The Nubians beat D-I Newark 47-45 in February.

“After we won and Africentric won, people just laughed and said ‘Well you have Africentric, what are you going to do?’” Waynesville head coach Tim Gabbard said. “And I said ‘We’re going to play.’ We didn’t come into this game just wanting to keep it close. We came in wanting to win and we proved we belong on that floor.”

Said Spartans senior Marcella Sizer: “That’s the way we wanted to go out if we had to. We knew we didn’t have a huge shot today, but we wanted to give it our all.”

Averaging 75 points per game and led by Tennessee recruit Jordan Hortson, Africentric didn’t flex much first-half muscle.

Waynesville trailed just 7-6 after a first quarter that saw the teams combine for 15 turnovers.

The Nubians shot 19-percent in the first half (5-of-26) and had seven turnovers.

Waynesville took just 10 first half shots (three in the second quarter) and made four.

Rachel Murray’s 3-pointer from the right corner with 4:40 to play in the second quarter gave the Spartans their biggest lead at 12-8.

Alexia Smith’s 3-pointer with nine seconds left in the second quarter gave Africentric an 18-15 halftime lead.

In the third Africentric played as expected.

The Nubians mounted a game-changing 21-9 run feuled by offensive rebounding, points off turnovers and in transition.

Down 39-24 at the end of three, Waynesville outscored Africentric 23-12 in the fourth.

Horston, playing in front of her future college coach (Tennessee’s Holly Warlick), was 3-of-20 from the floor but managed 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. She had a 102-degree temperature Friday, did not start the second half and wore a surgical mask to the postgame press conference.

Murray, Waynesville’s all-time leading scorer, finished with a team-high 15 points. Sizer, the Spartans all-time leader in rebounds and steals, finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Africentric outrebounded Waynesville 46-24.

Said Murray: “Our No. 1 goal coming into the game was to play with confidence. We knew we could hang with them. I couldn’t be more proud of how we did.”

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