Rolf rallies Centerville past Wayne in fourth quarter

Centerville's Rich Rolf gets a hug from teammate Emmanuel Deng after Rolf made four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter Friday night to spark the Elks to a 71-65 victory over visiting Wayne. Rolf scored 25 points. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Centerville's Rich Rolf gets a hug from teammate Emmanuel Deng after Rolf made four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter Friday night to spark the Elks to a 71-65 victory over visiting Wayne. Rolf scored 25 points. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

CENTERVILLE – Centerville’s Rich Rolf entered Friday night’s game against Wayne with an impressive stat line – team-leading averages of 9.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals to go with a 13.9 scoring average. But there was one that stood out in a dubious way – 29.4 % from 3-point range.

Those 3-point shooting struggles? Like 2020, they are history.

Rolf scored a career-high 25 points and made four 3-pointers in the final five minutes to spark the Elks to a 71-65 comeback victory. Wayne lost for the first time and the Elks (7-2, 5-1) moved into a first-place tie with Miamisburg in the Greater Western Ohio Conference.

“I was not hitting early on in the season, but my teammates gave me confidence to keep shooting,” said Rolf, a 6-foot-7 junior forward. “The energy was crazy, and we kept feeding off each other.”

Wayne (6-1, 4-1) is ranked No. 5 this week in the first Associated Press Division I top 10 poll. The Warriors led most of the game and called timeout with 5:50 left when leading scorer Prophet Johnson scored two of his team-high 22 points for a 58-49 lead.

The Elks came back with a 22-7 run led by Rolf and a defensive effort that forced turnovers and difficult shots.

“We weren’t very focused on getting defensive stops,” said Elks junior Tom House, who scored 18 points and made three 3-pointers. “And then the last five minutes we were able to string some stops together to give us momentum.”

Rolf, who also made a 3-pointer in the third quarter, started the run with a three. He cut the Wayne lead to 58-57 with his next one at the 3:55 mark.

Malcom Curry, who scored 18 for Wayne, put the Warriors back ahead 61-59 with 2:49 left. But Rolf made it three in a row from long range for a 62-61 lead 14 seconds later.

Even when Rolf airballed a three, House grabbed it and was fouled trying to score. He made both free throws for a 64-63 lead. With 1:33 left, Rolf wasn’t about to work time off the clock. He stepped back and made his last three for a 67-63 lead.

“Rich really stepped up with confidence, which is the first time he’s done that for us this year,” said Elks coach Brook Cupps. “He was just letting it go, not worrying about failing.”

Cupps said Rolf works on shooting every morning before school and has stayed committed to the process of working to improve. Rolf and his teammates were at Saturday morning’s 8 o’clock workout putting up more shots.

“He just never wavers,” Cupps said. “That consistency builds confidence. And it was great to see those shots go in for Rich tonight because he’s been so faithful.”

The Elks’ fourth-quarter defense didn’t go unnoticed by Cupps. The biggest task was to slow down Wayne’s Johnson. Cupps turned to 6-2 sophomore guard Emmanuel Deng.

“Prophet’s a really tough matchup, he’s hard to guard,” Cupps said. “In the second half of that fourth quarter, Emmanuel was long enough to challenge some of his shots and make some of them a little bit harder.”

This was the first game for Wayne that was close in the fourth quarter, and Warriors coach Nate Martindale said it showed when a nine-point lead wasn’t enough.

“We got there throughout the game by playing team basketball,” he said. “Our execution’s got to be better especially in an end-of-the-game situation.”

As the Elks rallied and 3-pointers rained down, the limited home crowd gave it all they had.

“It was definitely the loudest game we’ve had,” House said. “This year’s been kind of different, but it’s great just being on the floor.”

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