PICKERINGTON – Nobody outside of Reynoldsburg gave the Raiders a chance on Friday February 9th at Pickerington North: a team that was ranked #5 in the state of Ohio in last week’s AP rankings, and a team that will be the top seed in the upcoming Central Ohio District Tournament to kick off the postseason. Even more, the Panthers came into the game without a loss to a team from Central Ohio and on a 16-game winning streak overall with one week left in the regular season.
Then the Raiders came into town and made a statement.
Senior forward Tre Williams scored 23 points to lead the Raiders (14-7, 4-5), who used a big third quarter to build an 11-point lead over Pickerington North going to the 4th quarter. The Panthers (17-3, 8-1) would go on a furious rally in the final period and had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but the Raiders would hold on for a huge 53-52 road win on the Panthers’ home court.
“We just came in this game with the right mindset,” Williams said after the game. “Everybody was just locked in and focused. We just knew we had to finish and be patient to get out with a win.”
The opening quarter was a very low-scoring affair, with both teams coming up empty on their long first possessions. Panthers senior and Indiana University commit Jerome Hunter, who led all scorers with 31 points, scored on a dunk with 6:35 left in the 1st quarter to get Pickerington North on the board. Reynoldsburg and Pickerington North would both each miss at the three-point line and turn the ball over in the next three minutes, but senior guard Jamiel Goliday eventually split a pair of free throws to get the Raiders on the board. This was still the only scoring up to this point, with the Raiders trailing 2-1 with 3:48 left in the opening quarter. Williams and Hunter would both alternate baskets from there to end the opening quarter, with Williams scoring three baskets in the post and Hunter hitting from downtown twice to make it 8-7 Panthers at the end of the 1st period.
The Panthers would then score on a putback of a missed three just over a minute into the 2nd quarter, but Williams would score in the post and on a dunk to reach double digits not even halfway into the period. Senior guard Jamiel Goliday then would get on the scoreboard with a layup and transition three-pointer 15 seconds apart, and Williams scored one more basket in the 2nd quarter to lead the Raiders with 12 points at the break. A late transition bucket by senior Cole Crosby capped off a back-and-forth 2nd quarter with the Raiders leading 20-19 at halftime.
Both teams would continue to alternate buckets until halfway into the 3rd quarter, with Goliday opening the scoring with a layup, junior Ben Fort getting one to go from down low, and Williams hitting again in the post. Up one point after a Panthers layup just under halfway into the 3rd quarter, Goliday would hit a layup in transition that would begin a 12-2 scoring run to put the visiting Raider faithful on their feet as Reynoldsvurg would extend their lead to 38-27 at the end of three quarters. Williams would score 7 of these points, including a basket at the buzzer off of a very long pass by Malcolm Murphy, while Fort completed a three-point play in between to give Reynoldsburg a big cushion going into the 4th quarter.
Then Pickerington North turned up the heat on their home court.
They would cut the Raiders’ lead to six after two quick baskets under 10 seconds apart thanks to a Raiders turnover under the Panthers’ basket, and Reynoldsburg called timeout leading 41-35 with exactly 4:00 to go. Fort when then score 7 of his 9 total 4th-quarter points after this timeout, including a huge three-point play with 1:49 to go to extend the Raiders’ lead to 49-42.
“We just played hard, crashed the boards, and we weren’t trying to lose this game,” Fort said.
The Panthers weren’t trying to lose the game either. They would hit from downtown 10 seconds later, and then score from the post shortly afterwards after a Raiders offensive foul to cut Reynoldsburg’s lead to 49-47 with 1:20 to go. Fort then would score off a putback, while the Panthers would answer with two shots at the free throw line to stay within two points of the Raiders early in the final minute of regulation. Williams would then go to the line and miss both of his free throws, but the Panthers would miss a game-tying jumper with under 30 seconds to go in regulation.
Despite the Raiders’ late struggles at the charity stripe, Goliday would be fouled and make two clutch free throws to extend the Raiders’ lead to 53-49 with 22.9 seconds to go. Pickerington North would then split a pair of free throws ten seconds later to cut the Raiders’ lead to three; Crosby would eventually be sent to the line with 5.1 seconds to go, with one free throw likely being enough to seal the deal for the Raiders.
But Crosby missed both. He would make up for it, though, by committing a foul before the Panthers could attempt a game-tying three-pointer and limiting them only to a pair of free throws. The Raiders still led 53-52 at this point with 1.6 seconds to go as a result of the made free throws, and had time on their side.
“He didn’t look up the court to try and pass that,” Crosby said of the Panthers’ possession leading up to the critical foul. “I just let him dribble a couple of times to waste time and then I committed the foul.”
Malcolm Murphy was then set up to inbound a long pass after the Panthers made the second free throw, much to the dismay of the Pickerington North shooter who appeared to try to bank the shot off the glass for a potential game-tying putback attempt as time expired. But Murphy’s pass was intercepted at half court by Hunter who had a chance to win the game at the buzzer from the middle of the floor. Much to the relief of the Raiders sideline, the shot went wide right as the buzzer sounded, and Reynoldsburg completed one of the biggest upsets of the season in Central Ohio and secured a statement win with two games left in the regular season.
Although it will certainly go down as one of the biggest program wins in recent memory, the Raiders have their sights on something even bigger and have gained a lot of confidence as a result of the huge win.
“We’re just going to get better and practice harder toward playoff time,” Fort said.