Westland runs past Westerville Central, 77-62

JJ Smith gets an offensive rebound and put-back towards the end of the first quarter.

JJ Smith gets an offensive rebound and put-back towards the end of the first quarter.

By: Zach Fleer / @YS614

Whatever struggles the Westland Cougars (18-6) had at home just a few weeks ago are long gone after tonight’s enormous victory over Westerville Central in the second round of tournament play, 77-62. Led by Kersey Long’s 26 points, the Cougars ran the Warhawks off the court with suffocating defense which in turn led to transition offense to guide Westland to the win.

Jumping out to an early 19-5 advantage with a flurry of forced turnovers and fast break points, Westland found themselves only up six, 21-15 going into the second quarter. The Cougars turned up the heat in the second period, limiting Central to nine points to the quarter. Long and JJ Smith pioneered the Cougar attack in the second, as Smith’s work on the glass and Long’s quickness on the break helped Westland build a cushion heading into the second half leading by ten.

Similar to the beginning of the first half, Long and the Cougars pounced on the Warhawks in the opening minutes, as the senior guard scored Westland’s first eight points in a 90 second time stretch. Long would score 13 points in the third quarter behind a barrage of three-point baskets and silky smooth ball-handling. Smith’s three-point play at the end of the period gave the Cougars a 59-46 advantage heading into the fourth.

Westerville Central would again battle back, starting the quarter on a 6-0 run. Long and the Cougars were never rattled in the period, as the senior guard guided the team to an 18-16 advantage in the final frame to give Westland their fourth-straight victory, 77-62.

Whenever it seemed like the Warhawks were poised to make a run, Westland responded, which was all important in the win tonight. Senior forward Jalen Brown had his biggest performance of the season, hitting three triples en route to 11 points. Smith’s 16 points and KyJuan Grace’s 12 provided the Cougars with yet another balanced-scoring output, their second-straight in tournament play.

For Westerville Central, junior forward Eric James led the way with 17 points, none more ferocious than the two-hand slam he had midway through the second-quarter. Kwamel Wade (16 points) and Jalen Malone (13 points) each scored in double-figures for the Warhawks, who end their season with a 12-12 record.

With the win, Westland advances to the district semifinals, where they will meet division-rival Olentangy Liberty (23-1) for the third time this season. Westland handed the Patriots their only loss of the year on Dec. 21, 70-62. Liberty would get revenge on Feb. 1, in an 58-44 win that played a huge role in Liberty winning the OCC-Central title.

The two teams will meet at Marysville High School, next Wednesday, March 6 at 8 p.m. Liberty edged underdog Tri-Valley at home, 49-47 behind Alex Radkiewicz’ 14 points. The Patriots nearly blew a 14-point third quarter lead, but held Tri-Valley scoreless in the final minute to advance.

Walnut Ridge upsets Westerville South, 46-39. 

In arguably the biggest upset thus far in tournament play, 20th-seed Walnut Ridge (15-8) defeat 12th-seed Westerville South on the road behind Rob Wheelwright’s 16 points. Wheelwright, who is signed to play football at Wisconsin next season, played a huge role in limiting standout Marcus Ball, a former Wisconsin football commit, who shockingly signed with Arizona State on Signing Day, to two points in the Scots’ upset. South loses for the second time in four years to a City-League South opponent (Marion-Franklin in ’10), to finish the season 16-9. Wheelwright and Dymiere Finch (14 points) fueled a fourth quarter charge in which the Scots outscored South 17-14 to take the win, 46-39.

Walnut Ridge’s victory sets them up with a City-League showdown with seven-time defending champion Northland (24-0), who rolled over 41st-seed Central Crossing (2-21), 104-50. Led by Jaylen Tucker’s 20 points, the Vikings went into halftime with a 56-23 advantage. Northland wouldn’t take their foot off the gas in the second half, as ten players scored for the Vikings. Marc Russell led the Comets with 14 points.

Northland and Walnut Ridge will square off at Marysville High School, 6 p.m. next Wednesday to determine who will advance to the district final. Being in separate divisions of the City-League, Northland has yet to play Walnut Ridge this season. The Scots have the size to match up with Northland and are very capable of doing what Reynoldsburg did last season to send the Vikings home packing. Two big time games await the Central District next week in what has become an electrifying tournament season.