REYNOLDSBURG — Not too many Central Ohio Boys Basketball teams in the last three seasons can say they have a win against area and state powerhouse Westerville South, and the Raiders had a chance for its second win in as many tries over the Wildcats on Tuesday January 23rd. The Raiders won in memorable fashion on the road last season, when 2017 graduate Reece Strohm hit the game-winning three pointer as time expired to secure a 65-63 win over the then defending state champions to cap a shocking comeback in which Reynoldsburg never led until the final buzzer sounded.
But in their meeting a year later on the Raiders’ home court, Reynoldsburg never trailed.
The Raiders (10-5) raced out to an early 15-point lead over the Wildcats (10-4), who would quickly rally to tie the game early in the third quarter and would stay within one possession of Reynoldsburg for a good portion of the final nine minutes of regulation. But the Raiders’ size advantage and late defense was huge on Tuesday night, as Tre Williams and Ben Fort combined for 36 points, and the Wildcats were held to a single basket in the final 5:35 of regulation to help the Raiders pull away for a 61-52 home victory.
With the win, the Raiders improved to an impressive 4-2 in their past six meetings against Westerville South. In last season’s road victory, Kaleb Wesson, the 6′ 9″ former Wildcats forward who was named Ohio Mr. Basketball in 2017, dominated in last year’s contest and is currently a first-year starter for the 13th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
In this year’s contest, the tallest Wildcats starter was exactly six feet tall, giving the 6′ 7″ Williams and the entire Raiders starting lineup a huge size advantage going into the game.
Right out of the gate, Fort and Malcolm Murphy each hit three-pointers for the Raiders, while Williams drew two quick Wildcats fouls and made three of four ensuing free throws to give Reynoldsburg an early 9-2 lead. He would score 7 points in the opening quarter, including a dunk to end the period, while the Wildcats were held to two baskets and four free throws in the opening period. Leading 15-8 after one quarter, the Raiders would go on a 10-2 run in just under two minutes, with Jamiel Goliday and Murphy each scoring a basket and Williams hitting three baskets in the post to take a 25-10 lead over the Wildcats with 6:06 left in the first half.
Just like that, it seemed like the game was on pace to being decided early, and Westerville South called timeout to talk things over. Afterwards, the Wildcats would storm back thanks to its defense that has been one of the most dangerous in the area throughout the season.
They would force five Raiders turnovers and score on each of their ensuing possessions, putting up 13 unanswered points to cut the Raiders’ lead to 25-23 just over three and a half minutes later. Williams would score in the post to break the Raiders’ scoring drought with 1:50 left in the first half, but the Wildcats would hit three of their next four free throws as part of 11 total fouls committed by Reynoldsburg in the first half alone. A one-handed putback by Murphy as time expired in the 2nd quarter extended the Raiders’ lead to 29-26 at the break.
“We were bigger than them so we just got to the rim, finished, and just crashed the offensive glass,” Williams said after the game of the first half performance. “Coming into the game, we were forcing them to drive more and they just hit a bunch of threes. [In the second half] defensively, we just got up into them and just forced them to drive into me since everyone else was in foul trouble. Offensively, Ben [Fort] was on fire and we just had to give him the ball.”
And Fort certainly got hot at the right time.
The Wildcats would strike first in the 3rd quarter, hitting a three-pointer to tie the game at 29-29 with 7:15 left in the period. But Fort would dominate coming out of the locker room, converting a basket and ensuing free throw after drawing a foul, hitting another shot from downtown, and scoring a layup following a basket by Williams as part of a 10-2 Reynoldsburg run to extend the Raiders’ lead to 39-31 with just two and a half minutes later. Fort would score one more from under the basket to extend the Raiders’ lead to ten with 4:43 left in the period, but the Wildcats closed the quarter on a 15-6 run to cut their lead to 47-44 as the 3rd quarter ended. Those six points for the Raiders consisted of two free throws by Murphy, another bucket from inside the paint by Williams, and one more basket by Fort to cap off a 12-point period for the junior guard.
“We had to come out stronger because we had a bad second quarter, and then we got the tempo up,” Fort said of the team’s third-quarter performance. “We just played harder defense, and we made [the Wildcats] drive a bit more.”
The Wildcats continue to drive and would keep the game close early on in the 4th quarter, hitting twice from downtown to respond to two free throws by senior guard Nesion Anderson and a three-pointer by Goliday to cut the Raiders’ lead to 52-50 with 5:35 to go. Anderson would split a pair of free throws to put the Raiders ahead for good, and Williams would hit his final bucket of the game with 4:15 left in regulation to give Reynoldsburg a five-point cushion over Westerville South. The Wildcats would only score once more on a layup the rest of the way, missing three shots from downtown along with a layup, and turning the ball over three times.
The Raiders would get one more bucket by senior Cole Crosby and close the game out at the free throw line to secure the 61-52 win over the Wildcats.