With less than five minutes remaining and the score tied at 44 at Springfield, Centerville High School coach Brook Cupps had a simple message for his Elks team — slow down.
“We just needed to calm down and stop turning the ball over,” Cupps said. “We looked like we had never seen a run-and-jump there for awhile. … After that timeout, our guys calmed down and were much more sure with ball, got better shots, took care of (the ball).”
The Elks heard Cupps’ loud and clear.
»RELATED: Friday’s high school roundup
»RELATED: Friday’s high school scoreboard
Centerville held the Wildcats scoreless for the final 4:47, finishing the game on a 16-0 run en route to a 60-44 Greater Western Ohio Conference National East Division victory on Friday night.
Centerville’s Matt Pearce had a game-high 16 points, hitting four 3-pointers as the Elks (12-5, 7-2) won their eighth straight game. Ryan Marchal and Kaleb Mitchell each scored 10 points for Centerville.
“We were working against their pressure at halftime and I thought we responded really well,” Pearce said. “The way we were able to break it down and get layups was huge.”
Ra’Heim Moss scored 12 points and Jeff Tolliver added 10 for the Wildcats (11-5, 9-1), who dropped their first conference game of the season.
“Centerville did a good job tonight,” said Springfield coach Isaiah Carson. “You can’t take anything away from those guys. I’m a little bit disappointed in my guys. I thought we played too much individual, selfish basketball. I don’t know where that came from, but you can’t beat good basketball teams playing like that. We’ve got to get that together.”
Centerville jumped out to a 17-8 lead early in the game, but the Wildcats cut the lead to four at 30-26 at the half.
Springfield trailed 40-37 after the third quarter and quickly tied the game at 40 on a 3-pointer by Jalan Minney.
Springfield’s David Sanford hit a jumper with 4:47 to tie the game at 44, but it would be the last time the Wildcats would find the basket. Marchal scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter.
The Elks played a zone defense for long stretches of the fourth quarter to keep the athletic Wildcats out of the paint. When they found gaps, 6-foot-9 post Mo Njie was there to change the Wildcats’ shots.
“He makes it pretty tough to finish around the rim,” Cupps said. “Our guys did a great job of finishing possessions defensively. It was one shot and we got the rebound.”
The victory pulled the Elks within one game of the Wildcats in the GWOC National East Division with three division games remaining, but they’ll need some help to earn a share of the league title. Wayne (10-8, 8-2) is also one game back.
Springfield has two league games remaining at Wayne on Feb. 8 and at Fairmont on Feb. 12. The Wildcats can clinch the at least a share of the league title with victory at Wayne. They also have nonconference games against Urbana and Trotwood-Madison.
“We’ve got a tough stretch coming up,” Carson said. “We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to get back to doing what we do. That was not Springfield basketball tonight. I’m extremely disappointed. We have to take it and learn from it. That’s all we can do.”
Centerville has three league games remaining — at Fairmont on Feb. 8, at Beavercreek on Feb. 12 and Wayne on Feb. 15. Cupps, however, wasn’t looking past Saturday night’s game against Columbus Northland.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Cupps said. “Northland is the most important one. We’re going to do everything we can to get ready for that. Whatever happens with the league happens. We’re just trying to get ready and be the best team we can be.”