Ten days ago the Anna boys basketball team started practicing zone defense. Head coach Nate Barhorst knew his team would eventually need it to advance in the tournament.
That need was Wednesday night against Stivers. The quick, dribble-driving Tigers started fast and led the entire first quarter. So about four minutes into the game Barhorst called for the 3-2 zone.
“These kids have the ability to make that kind of adjustment because they’ve got high basketball IQs,” Barhorst said.
The other secret weapon for the Rockets was 6-foot-4 senior wing Carter Elliott’s 3-point shooting. That combination ignited the Rockets in the third quarter and carried them to a 70-52 victory in the Division III regional semifinals at Trent Arena.
The Rockets will face Cincinnati Purcell Marian in the final at 7 p.m. Saturday at Trent in a rematch of last year’s district final won by Purcell by 13 points. On Wednesday, the Cavaliers got 16 points from Javonta Lyons and dominated the second half in a 52-37 victory over Versailles.
“We know what they did to us last year, and that sticks in our minds,” Barhorst said.
Stivers (20-5) expected to see zone defense because it’s been that way in its previous tournament games.
“We didn’t make good decisions today, we didn’t move the ball as quickly as we needed to — we just didn’t execute well,” Tigers coach Felix Turner said. “The zone wasn’t new, but it was effective.”
Anna (25-2) handled Stivers’ aggressive, trapping defense by finding Elliott in the third quarter. Elliott, who averages eight points, made four of his five 3-pointers in the Rockets’ 23-point quarter that resulted in a 54-38 lead. He equaled teammate Bart Bixler’s game-high 19 points.
“It just got everyone up,” Elliott said. “If someone’s hot, they just keep feeding them the ball.”
Bixler, Riley Huelskamp and Griffin Doseck (15 points) kept attacking the basket, found Elliott for open shots and scored at other times. And the lead was never threatened.
“We saw them get their heads down and knew that they weren’t going to control the game,” Bixler said. “And we really took advantage of that.”
Turner called timeout twice early in the third, but it didn’t slow the Rockets.
“Momentum is what this game is about, and they got the momentum and never gave it back,” Turner said.
Doug Spear and Allen Latimore led Stivers with 11 points apiece and Da’Juan Allen added 10.
Versailles (15-11) trailed by one at halftime, but Purcell Marian (23-4) scored the first 14 points of the third quarter for a 37-22 lead that was never threatened. PM, a No. 1 seed like Anna, used full-court pressure to force turnovers and scored off a few offensive rebounds to build the lead.
“Our kids maybe got a little worn down,” Versailles coach Travis Swank said. “Their depth is substantial. You can’t fault our kids’ heart.”
Junior guard Michael Stammen led the young Tigers with 21 points. The Tigers were a No. 7 seed and ran off victories over No. 5 Twin Valley South, No. 4 Brookville and No. 3 Cincinnati Reading.
“It’s just coming together and growing,” Swank said. “When you put effort out like we put out there tonight you’re rewarded usually in the end.”
Coldwater advances: Cole Frilling scored 26 points and Marcus Bruns added 16 points and six assists as the Cavaliers (18-9) beat Williard 75-54 in a Division III regional semi at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center.
Jacob Wenning added 11 points and Ben Wenning 10 assists for Coldwater, which advances to face 23-3 Oregon Cardinal Stritch — a 63-58 winner over Grandview Heights — at 7 p.m. Saturday at BGSU. The winner advances to next week’s state final four in Columbus.