KETTERING – The list of ways the Centerville boys basketball team can beat you got longer Saturday night. And a record crowd at Trent Arena left knowing the Elks are still the team to beat in Ohio.
Team defense has always been on coach Brook Cupps’ to-do list, but the way the top-ranked and unbeaten Elks shut down fourth-ranked Fairmont was more elite than usual. Then there was Ryan Keifer. He’s the defensive-minded, does-the-dirty-work forward who doesn’t shoot a lot. But when he does it almost always goes in.
Keifer, it seemed, was invisible to the Fairmont defense in the first quarter as he got open for five layups and 10 points. He tied his career high with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting and the Elks defeated Fairmont 51-31 in front of a packed house at Trent Arena to run their winning streak to 35, record to 19-0 and Greater Western Ohio Conference mark to 12-0.
Keifer wasn’t invisible to his teammates. When they drove toward the basket, he cut to the open spot and scored. The Elks have three primary scorers on most nights, but as coach Brook Cupps often says what matters most is not caring who scores. It’s his team’s philosophy of playing simple and together.
“I was just in the right place at the right time, really,” Keifer said. “A lot of my teammates have really good court vision. All I had to do was finish it. It was kind of fun, but it really doesn’t matter who scores.”
Keifer was a bring-the-energy guy off the bench last year for the Elks when they won the Division I state championship. This year he brings energy to a starting role and averages 4.7 points. In three seasons on varsity, Keifer has never attempted a 3-point shot and scored in double figures only five times. Instead, he waits for his chances at the rim. He’s made a GWOC-leading 73.7% of his shots.
“Keifer did a really good job of cutting to the rim,” Cupps said. “That’s something we talked about trying to get, and he’s one of those kids that just does exactly what you tell him to do, and he does it every time. It reflects the faithfulness of Keif to cut and us to be looking for the open guy.”
Usual scoring threats Rich Rolf and Tom House scored 14 and 11 points, respectively. Gabe Cupps scored a season-low five points but had eight assists. House made three 3-pointers in the second quarter to help build a 31-17 halftime lead. Rolf scored eight points in the fourth as the Elks outscored the Firebirds 14-2.
“We defended really well,” Cupps said. “We didn’t let other things that happened good or bad offensively impact how we guarded possession to possession. It wasn’t real pretty offensively, but they’re good defensively, too.”
Fairmont athletic director Chris Weaver estimated the crowd at 3,100 and said the only regular-season Fairmont crowd to rival it was the night the building opened in 2005. They came to see the two best teams in the GWOC and two of the best teams in Ohio. Fairmont (17-2, 10-2) was confident at home after giving the Elks a battle in a 48-36 loss in December that was a one-point game with four minutes left.
“I think the moment in the first half got to our guys a little bit – uncharacteristic mental errors that I haven’t seen all year,” Fairmont coach Kenny Molz said. “Centerville’s been in these kind of environments with this group the last three years. So this isn’t a big deal to them. They’re in that calm rage that we like to call it. We were so amped up. It took almost a whole half to say OK, now we’ve got to get back into playing.”
Fairmont fought back in the third quarter to trail 35-29 before heading to the fourth down 37-29. After the teams traded baskets to start the fourth, Fairmont lost Dasan Doucet to leg cramps with 5:48 left. With one of the Firebirds’ two main scoring threats out, the Elks could focus on Anthony Johnson (13 points), who earlier sat for a couple minutes with cramps. The Firebirds didn’t score again.
“The fourth quarter killed us,” Molz said. “A.J. and Dasan cramping up, what are the odds of that happening? We didn’t have an identity without those guys on offense.”
The list of Centerville’s accomplishments continues to grow. Almost getting lost in the winning streak, the No. 1 ranking in the state, a top 10 national ranking and its pursuit of a second straight state title, is the fact that the Elks are primed to win a fourth straight GWOC title.
The Elks shared the crown with Wayne last year, won it outright in 2020 and shared it with Springfield in 2019. A win over Springboro on Tuesday would mean a second outright title in four years. Still, the Elks say they can play better.
“We’re getting better,” Cupps said. “I think our best basketball’s in front of us. It’s a fun group to be around. They enjoy being around each other. The things we’re not doing well right now we can fix and get right.”