- Jeff Gilbert Contributing Writer
At Shawnee, playing defense is cool.
When setting the school record for fewest points allowed is a major team goal, then, yes, defense is cool.
The Braves were at their defensive best Wednesday night. They allowed the second-fewest points they have all season in a 53-31 victory over Urbana in the second round of the Division II sectional at Springfield High School.
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“That’s what we pride ourselves on and we showed that tonight,” said senior guard and leading scorer Aaron Schack, who followed his 36-point night in the first round with 20 points.
Sixth-seeded Shawnee (16-8) will lean on its defense again at 7:30 Friday at Springfield in the sectional final against No. 5 Carroll (15-9), a 35-32 overtime winner over Graham. The Braves will play in their fifth sectional final in six years and their seventh in the past 10 under head coach Chris McGuire, who won his 200th game Saturday in his 13th season with the Braves. They are 2-2 in their four most recent appearances.
“It means a lot to be here,” Braves senior Cyres Cooper said. “But at the beginning of the year we set goals, and this wasn’t it. We wanted to make it back to Dayton like we did in 2015. This is just one of the steps along the way.”
The Braves have allowed an average of 43.5 points per game. The school record is 46.1. To shut down fourth-seeded Urbana (15-8) the Braves had to keep 6-foot-5 senior center Levi Boettcher from catching the ball near the basket. They also had to slow the penetration game and scoring of point guard Jace Underwood. Those two combined for 16 points, which was over 13 below their combined average.
“They’re really good defensively,” Urbana coach Jeremy Dixon said. “We didn’t really do a very good job of executing offensively, and I think as the game wore on it affected our defense.”
Cooper is 6-1 and always guards the opponent’s best player regardless of size. This time he had Underwood.
“I felt like I did a pretty good job, and I had the help-side defense from the rest of my team,” Cooper said. “And they shut down their guys too.”
Cooper rarely leaves the floor and averages only two points a game, but he doesn’t care.
“Everyone else is always scoring, so I just play the defensive part of it and do what the team needs,” he said. “On offense I’m a screener and l look to get these guys open shots and get some rebounds – score when I’m open.”
After Schack’s big game Saturday, Shawnee coach Chris McGuire knew others had to score because Urbana would focus on stopping Schack.
“We worked on it all week in practice, and we got good contributions in practice just like we did tonight,” McGuire said. “That was a big key for us.”
Camden Van Velzor and Billy Lord scored 12 points apiece. Lord’s scoring average is down this year, but his 3-pointer and 15-footer in the third quarter were a big part of the Braves increasing their two-point halftime lead to 34-24 entering the fourth quarter.
Urbana says goodbye to six seniors who won two sectional titles, two Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division titles and won 48 games the past three seasons.
Graham will lose three starters to graduation after an 11-13 season that was close to being a winning one. The Falcons lost nine games in which they had a chance to win or tie in the final minute. They pulled off a stunner in overtime Saturday against Kenton Ridge. They almost did it again against Carroll.
“What a resilient group,” Graham coach Nathan Warner said. “I think sometimes it’s easier to come back from a blowout than it is from those kind of games. I love that group in there. They play so hard.”
Tristen Henry, who hit the winning shot against KR, made a driving layup with 3.8 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
“Tristen has a special talent of getting the ball and taking it to the hoop and making the right decision,” Warner said. “We wanted to get Tristen the ball going downhill.”
Overtime was scoreless until Carroll’s Matt Cogan made a 3-pointer with nine seconds left. It was his fourth 3-pointer and he scored 12 points.
Graham rushed the ball up floor and found Matt Flora open in the corner. He forced overtime with a 3-pointer at the buzzer against KR, but this time his shot bounced off the rim.
“He had a good step-back look,” Warner said. “He loves the corner. That is his favorite shot.”