Boys basketball: Shawnee falls to Cincinnati Taft in regional final

Shawnee's Zion Crowe tries to score against Cincinnati Taft's Rayvon Griffith (3) and AJ Lowe during the first half of Saturday's Division III regional final at Butler High School. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Shawnee's Zion Crowe tries to score against Cincinnati Taft's Rayvon Griffith (3) and AJ Lowe during the first half of Saturday's Division III regional final at Butler High School. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

VANDALIA – Shawnee’s consistent play this season earned the Braves a No. 1 tournament seed in Division III. And high enough tournament hopes to think that making the state final four was a reasonable goal.

But there was always Cincinnati Taft lurking out there.

On Saturday at Butler High School, everything that Shawnee coach Chris McGuire thought was probably true about Taft was on display. The Senators led the entire regional final, built and kept a comfortable lead and rolled in the fourth quarter to finish Shawnee’s season 63-39 at Butler High School.

“They showed why they’re really good,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of different pieces, they’ve got a lot of athleticism and they’re well-coached.”

Taft (16-4) will play in the state semifinals at UD Arena at 5 p.m. Friday against either Worthington Christian or Proctorville Fairland.

“I had confidence we were going to be able to win the game,” McGuire said. “We felt like we had the pieces.”

Shawnee (18-5) struggled to score early and it caught up to them. After falling behind 27-16 at halftime, McGuire talked with his team about eliminating turnovers, making layups and free throws and defending the paint.

Patrick Fultz, who led the Braves with 16 points, gave the Braves a spark in the third quarter with three of his four 3-pointers. His third one made it 42-29, but Taft countered with a three and the lead was never threatened further.

“We felt like coming out of the half that we could make a run,” McGuire said. “Patrick was able to provide that spark from the perimeter. After that, we just needed some stops, and it seemed like every time we went on a little run, we had a breakdown or they made a play. That made it tough and frustrating.”

Taft played most of the first quarter and part of the second with star sophomore Rayvon Griffith because of two early fouls. Griffith scored 12, but Yacco Nelson scored 16 and Brandon Cromer 15. Nelson is 6-foot-4 and quick and did all his damage inside. Other than the three 3-pointers the Senators made, all of their points were inside. McGuire said guarding big men who can score has been the team’s biggest challenge.

“We wanted to force them to make threes and make tough twos from the perimeter, and we didn’t force them into enough of those shots,” McGuire said. “We didn’t play one of our better games and execute through it, but I couldn’t be more proud of the guys. Regional runners-up, Division III, that’s a heck of a year.”

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