LANCASTER — The Raiders snapped a three-game losing streak with their best defensive performance of the season on Senior Night earlier in the week, but were looking to continue to build momentum at Lancaster for their regular season finale.
Although a furious 4th quarter rally by the Gales made the score a lot closer than the final score indicated, it is safe to say the Raiders got the job done in a very hostile environment.
The Raiders (16-6, 5-5) went up by 23 going into the 4th quarter, but the Gales quickly blew the game up with 12 unanswered points to begin the final eight minutes of regulation. They trimmed the Raiders’ lead down to 9 with 1:33 to go, but the Raiders held on and pulled away for a 58-42 road win in their regular season finale.
Sophomore guard Ben Fort led the Raiders with 15 points, with 8 of them coming in the 4th quarter to swing momentum back in favor of the visiting Raiders.
“It was a good run,” Fort said of the Gales scoring burst in the 4th. “We tried to play defense and they started hitting threes.”
But it was a whole different story in the first three quarters, which were dominated by the Raiders. The Raiders scored the first six points of the game and 11 of the first 15 total points with 1:34 remaining in the 1st. Both teams traded basket from there for the remainder of the 1st quarter and the majority of the 2nd quarter, and the Raiders found themselves leading 21-13 with 5:44 left in the 2nd quarter. Although the Raiders went on a scoring drought that lasted 4:58, senior forward Reece Strohm scored the last six points of the half in roughly the final minute. The Raiders took a 27-13 lead into the locker room as a result.
“In the past, we haven’t played well here, so it was good to bounce back and play well here for once,” Strohm said of the Raiders’ performance. He finished with 11 points for the Raiders and all of his points came in the first half.
The big story of the first three quarters of the game was the defense of the Raiders. They held the Gales to single digits in each of the first three quarters, including the 2nd quarter in which the Raiders only allowed 5 points. The Raiders started the 3rd quarter on a 10-2 run on top of this before both teams again traded baskets, as the Raiders took a 43-20 lead into the 4th quarter.
“We had talked about how we wanted to get off to a good start defensively,” Raiders head coach Scott Davis said of the start. “Our guys were engaged on the defensive end, it was a total team defensive effort, and I was very pleased.”
But the Gales would not go away on their Senior Night in front of a very packed home crowd. The Gales capitalized on a couple of Raiders turnovers to start the 4th quarter to build momentum, and they would score 12 unanswered points in roughly the first three minutes of the 4th quarter. This cut the once 23-point Raiders lead to 43-32 with 4:57 to go in regulation.
“We had about five or six straight bad possessions, where we had a few turnovers and a couple of questionable shots,” coach Davis went on to say. “[The Gales] just cashed in on them and knocked down some shots. All of a sudden, the lead disappeared in a heartbeat.”
The Raiders would answer back with five points by Fort and a layup by senior guard KJ Walker to cap of a 12-point night for him to extend the Raiders’ lead to 50-34 with 3:28 left. Yet the game was still far from over, as Lancaster gave it everything they got in the end. The Gales would hit a quick three pointer, a transition layup after a Raiders turnover, and then another three pointer to cut the Raiders lead to 51-42 with 1:33 to go. Junior guard Jamiel Goliday was then fouled by the Gales after they had missed another three-point attempt, and he hit two clutch free throws to extend the Raiders lead back to double digits. Fort was then quickly fouled after a steal, and he too hit both of his free throws to give the Raiders a 55-42 lead with 56.7 to go.
The Gales then came up empty again on their next possession, and senior forward JJ Cooper was then fouled with 44.6 to go and split a pair of free throws. Lancaster then began subbing out their starters one by one to a loud standing ovation by the home crowd with the game’s result all but final. Junior forward Daniel Felix would score the final basket to cap a game-ending 7-0 run for the Raiders to emerge victorious in an always-tough place to play.
With the win in their regular season finale, the Raiders concluded their regular season at 16-6, one year after finishing 9-13 and losing in the opening round of the postseason.
“We were pleased with our regular season,” Davis said after the win. “We’re obviously disappointed that we didn’t win our league, but from where we were a year ago at this point to tonight, we are very pleased with that.”
But now that the Raiders can look ahead to the postseason riding a two-game win streak, there is one thing on the team’s mind in regards to their road to the Schottenstein Center.
“Let’s keep the streak going,” Fort said.
The Raiders (16-6, 5-5) now can look ahead to the postseason, where they are seeded 10th out of 47 teams in the 2017 OHSAA Central Ohio District Tournament.
They will play their playoff opener at home against 32nd-seeded Olentangy Orange. Tip against the Pioneers is on Saturday 2/25 at 1:00pm. The winner of this game will play their second-round game at home against 33rd-seeded Walnut Ridge on Friday 3/3 at 7:00pm. The Raiders beat the Scots 52-36 at home in their second game of the season on Dec. 5th.
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