GAHANNA — Coming off a 25-point 4th quarter in a comeback win on Tuesday against Central Crossing, the Raiders traveled to Gahanna-Lincoln looking to build on their offensive momentum and secure a rare road win in the Lions Den.
With the home stretch of the regular season looming, both of those things happened tonight.
The Raiders (14-3, 4-2) secured their first regular season sweep of the Lions (9-7, 1-5) in quite some time after a big second quarter propelled them to a 17-point halftime lead. Despite the Lions clawing their way back to within nine in the 4th quarter, the Raiders would hang on and pull away for a 56-43 road victory.
“It feels good; I haven’t done it in my whole four years here,” said senior forward Reece Strohm of the win at Gahanna-Lincoln. We knew that it would be tough to come over here, especially with their pressure. We just felt like we played well as a team and we just had a good mentality coming in.”
Strohm finished with 11 points, all coming in the first half, though his points helped propel the Raiders to a fast start. He hit two three-pointers in the first two minutes of the game, while sophomore guard Ben Fort followed with a three-pointer of his own a short time later. With both teams settling in, scoring began to even out and the Raiders took a 16-11 lead into what would be a huge 2nd quarter. Strohm would hit his third three-pointer of the game, while senior forward JJ Cooper followed with a basket of his own to force a Lions timeout after seven unanswered Raiders points gave them a 23-11 lead with 5:16 left in the 2nd quarter. The Lions would then score three of the next four baskets on the floor in the next two minutes, but Fort would score seven consecutive points in a 98-second span in the last two minutes of the quarter. One more basket by senior forward Arrington Dulin capped off a 9-0 run by the Raiders to end the first half and go into the locker room with a 34-17 lead.
“We came out strong in the first half and we kept it together the whole game,” Fort said after the win.
The Raiders coming out strong in the first half actually was the biggest difference in the game. Both teams would start out slow on offense in the 3rd quarter, but Fort would then score another basket to open the second half scoring and give the Raiders a 36-17 lead with 6:26 left in the 3rd quarter: their largest lead of the night. Both teams would then trade baskets briefly, but the Raiders lead would be cut to 44-30 going into the 4th quarter. The Lions even clawed their way back to within single digits after they hit a basket plus a free throw off a Raiders foul to cap a 20-10 run, and the Raiders found themselves clinging to a 46-37 lead with 4:44 to go.
But the Raiders would not let the Lions get any closer. Fort would hit a basket for the last of his team-leading 14 points for the night, while junior forward Tre Williams scored off an offensive rebound to put the Raiders up by double digits for good. Senior guard KJ Walker even added six of his own points off of huge layups in the final two minutes of the game to stop the momentum of the Lions, and his final layup gave him an 11-point night and the third Raiders scorer in double digits.
The Raiders would then dribble out the clock from there to emerge from Gahanna-Lincoln with a rare road win in the Lions’ house.
“It’s the first time we won over here in a long time,” coach Davis said after the game. “We got off to a good start unlike the last couple of games, and that was really a point of emphasis for us. We had a great finish to the end of the first half to go up by 17, but we knew they would not roll over and that it would be a tough battle in the second half. They chipped away at our a little bit, but we made a lot of plays down the stretch to preserve the win.”
With the win, the Raiders have now won five of their last six games, holding opponents to an average of 49.8 PPG in that span. Going back to the final quarter of Tuesday’s game against Central Crossing, the Raiders have even averaged 16.2 points in their last five quarters after averaging only 11.5 points in their last eleven quarters dating back to the opening quarter of the Raiders 48-46 home loss against Pickerington North two weeks ago.
“We don’t have any one guy that teams can key on,” Davis went on to say. “We have a well-balanced team, so we feel really confident that we’re always going to have a few guys that are going to get it done offensively. That’s a nice luxury to have, and tonight it was Ben [Fort] and Reece [Strohm], and KJ [Walker] has been really consistent. And then we shot it in; we knocked down some shots early on, and when you shoot good, you look good.”
With his team sitting at 14-3 overall, 4-2 in the brutal OCC-Ohio division, and having a resume that has become stronger and stronger as the season has progressed, Davis had one message to his team with five gives to go in the regular season.
“We have one game in the next ten days,” Davis said. “We’re going to really use that time to get better and really prepare for this stretch run.”
Ben Fort- 14*
Reece Strohm- 11*
KJ Walker- 11*
JJ Cooper- 8*
Arrington Dulin- 4
Tre Williams- 4*
Jamiel Goliday- 2
Malcolm Murphy- 2
NEXT UP + DIVISION OUTLOOK:
The Raiders (14-3, 4-2) move into a second place tie with Pickerington North in the OCC-Ohio and two games behind arch-rival Pickerington Central, who sits at 6-0 in the division after a 64-59 home win against the aforementioned Panthers tonight.
The Raiders return home game against division rival Grove City (10-8, 3-3). The Greyhounds, who the Raiders beat on the road 53-34 on Dec. 16, 2016, will be coming off a 59-55 home win against Lancaster.
Tip is at 7:30pm at home on Friday 2/3.
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