REYNOLDSBURG, OH – On the afternoon of March 10th, 2018, the Raiders would hoist their first district title trophy since 2012 after a 51-36 victory over Mount Vernon at Ohio Dominican University. They would then play Hilliard Bradley, a team which had only lost one game all season up to that point, in this same venue four days later in the regional semifinals.
Unfortunately, the Raiders’ amazing season would come to an end that Wednesday night.
Hilliard Bradley would heave and hit a well-defended long shot from three quarters of the court away from the hoop as time expired in the first quarter as part of a 19-8 Jaguars scoring run to end the first half. Despite strong defense from the Raiders, the Jaguars made a handful of critical shots and would ultimately prevail. Reynoldsburg lost by a score of 56-44 against eventual regional finalist Hilliard Bradley as a result, but the Raiders allowed an unbelievable 46.8 points per game on average in their five postseason games, and their offense certainly peaked at the right time in the months of February and March.
However, Reynoldsburg would graduate four of its five starters from last season’s playoff run, leaving question marks outside of Raider Country as to how the team would respond in 2018-19.
But even with senior guard Ben Fort being the only returning starter, a multitude of key players have moved up to varsity and have stepped up in 2018-19, and Reynoldsburg seems to have picked up right where it left off.
In the blink of an eye, the Raiders have played exactly half of their regular season, and Reynoldsburg (8-3, 2-2) has responded by winning eight of its first eleven games. Despite some slow starts along the way, Reynoldsburg has particularly turned up the heat in the second halves of the majority of these contests. Defensively, the Raiders have continued to frustrate their opponents by not allowing more than 64 points in a game so far (and an average of 46.5 points per game overall, which is good for best in the OCC-Ohio division and fourth overall amongst teams in all divisions of the Ohio Capital Conference) to complement an offense that continues to improve.
As the Raiders begin the second half of their 2018-19 regular season consisting of 11 more games between now and February 15th, 2019, here is a brief recap of each of the Raiders’ first 11 games to help you get caught up with all of the action, along with an outlook of the remainder of the season and the immediate upcoming schedule.
GAME 1: Legacy Christian Academy (12/1/2018)
Knights 37, Raiders 71
The Raiders would open up the 2018-19 season at Pickerington North High School, but not against the division-rival Panthers. Reynoldsburg would open up the All-Ohio Nike Showcase and their new season against Legacy Christian Academy of Xenia, Ohio, and everyone would get their first glimpse of the new-look Raiders. Returning senior guard Ben Fort was joined on the floor by junior guard Nick Wallace, junior forward Sean Moore, senior guard Xavier Prince, and sophomore guard Josiah Mobley (5’ 10”) to complete Reynoldsburg’s opening day starting lineup.
With four first-time varsity starters, you can say the wait was definitely worth it.
After a 20-15 first quarter in favor of the Burg, which included two dunks by Fort, another dunk by Prince, and seven points by Moore alone, the Raiders settled in particularly on defense. Reynoldsburg would hold the Knights scoreless for most of the second period, until they scored their only bucket with just over a minute left in the first half. The Raiders would allow a total of only 22 points in the remaining three quarters of regulation, with eight of them coming in a Knights burst in the final two and a half minutes of the third period, and Reynoldsburg would cruise the rest of the way. A late three by freshman guard Cooper Davis and a dunk by junior guard Shon Strickland would put an exclamation point on a 71-37 victory for the Raiders over Legacy Christian Academy.
Moore would lead all scorers with 22 points, a season high in points in any game for Reynoldsburg in the first half of the regular season, in varsity debut.
“It felt good for my first varsity game,” Moore said after that win of his performance. “It really means a lot, because I am just stepping up coming up from JV [Junior Varsity]. The majority of us played JV together and are moving up, so having one [returning] varsity player is going along good so far. It’s going to be a good season.”
Fort, the one returning player from last season’s team, would add 16 points, and eight other Raiders would ultimately score to start the season off on a high note.
“I feel like I had a great performance, and as a team we did too,” said Fort after the win. “And for our first time playing with each other, it will only get better by the season. This is a new role to me [leading the team with previous varsity experience], and I think I’ll do great doing it. We have some potential, and we can really do something in the OCC.”
Reynoldsburg head coach Scott Davis, who is in his seventh season leading the Raiders, was certainly pleased with his team’s start to the 2018-19 season, though acknowledged that there is a lot of room for improvement.
“We maybe had some first-game jitters,” Davis said after that game. “We’re far from a finished product and have a long way to go. I know early on during that stretch when the game was close, we had eight turnovers. Like in any sport, if you turn the ball over, that usually leads to points for the other team. We reduced our turnovers and were able to get locked in defensively, and we did a good job at that end. And we have all the confidence in the world that our guys will be able to knock down shots; today we didn’t, but we still won comfortably, so that is good. But we feel like if we are knocking down some shots, we are going to be really hard to beat, because we have guys that can put it on the floor and beat you off the dribble, and it is encouraging to get a win when we did not shoot it very well from three.”
“Ben Fort was a varsity player last year, and then Nick Wallace saw a little bit of time in varsity. Other than that, the rest of the guys are new. We are going to have some ups and downs, but Ben Fort has been great for us as a senior leader. And Sean Moore, since last year, has really worked on his game, and he’s kind of emerged as one of the players we feel like we can count on this year.”
Even though the majority of the current roster had no varsity experience up to this point, they are certainly no strangers to success given what they did in the previous levels of Raider Basketball. In fact, these players won a championship at the freshman level two years ago, and finished 18-2 at the JV level last season when varsity won a district title.
Davis elaborated on the importance of this, as a lot of the program’s players began transitioning to the varsity level.
“We have the preeminent coach in JV basketball in the state of Ohio,” Davis said of Reynoldsburg associate head coach and JV head coach Jamie Caudill. “Year in and year out, our JV teams are tremendous, and he does a great job with them. In our program, our kids just kind of move up. A lot of our [current varsity] kids played as freshmen, the next year they played JV, and we really feel confident that we can plug guys in from our good JV team last year into varsity.”
This is certainly been true so far this entire season.
His son, freshman guard Cooper Davis, who hit two late three-pointers in as many attempts from long range, is one of many current Raiders players who see regular playing time at the JV level that will translate very well to success at the varsity level.
And dad certainly had to feel good watching what ended up being his son’s first six points in a varsity game.
“We knew this day was coming for a very time,” said coach Davis about his son. “I’m so thankful myself to be at Reynoldsburg, and he really loves it and loves going to school here. The guys have embraced him, and overall all of our guys have embraced one another. It is a great group of kids to coach.”
With the win, the Raiders would win their opener for the third season in a row and improve to 1-0.
GAME 2: Gahanna-Lincoln (12/7/2018)
Lions 53, Raiders 58
In a packed Reynoldsburg High School Summit Campus gym with all of Central Ohio closely watching from near and far, Reynoldsburg would play a Gahanna-Lincoln team, who swept the Raiders last season, in both teams’ OCC-Ohio division openers. Reynoldsburg appeared to be in trouble in front of its raucous home crowd in what ended up being a game of runs, and senior forward Sahmi Willoughby would make his varsity debut after being sidelined in the Raiders’ season opener due to injury.
But at the end of the night, Reynoldsburg would go on the scoring run that was the knockout punch with Willoughby stealing the show.
Despite trailing by nine points and with four turnovers after the first period, Reynoldsburg would outscore Gahanna-Lincoln 17-3 in the second quarter on the way to a five-point halftime lead. The Lions would then score 14 unanswered points out of the locker room before the Raiders closed the period out with eight unanswered points of their own to cut Gahanna-Lincoln’s lead to one. Ben Fort would eventually break a late tie with a clutch bucket from down low with 1:11 to go and would lead all scorers with 18 points, while Nick Wallace would hit a clutch, contested shot from downtown with 46.2 seconds to play to extend Reynoldsburg’s lead to two possessions. The Lions would miss a game-tying three pointer with 1.5 seconds to go, while Reynoldsburg would seal the game with two more free throws at the other end to cap off a game-ending 30-16 scoring run for the Raiders.
As a result, Reynoldsburg would take down Gahanna-Lincoln for the first time since sweeping the Lions in the regular season two seasons ago with a thrilling 58-53 home opener victory.
“Xavier [Prince] had a good drive and I was in the corner, so I was ready to shoot it,” Wallace said of his late three pointer. “He trusted me, passed me the ball, I was ready to shoot, and I knocked it down. [Gahanna-Lincoln] beat us here in the last seconds of the game last year on a missed layup, so it felt great to beat them.”
Wallace, who finished with 9 points, was referring to what ended up being a missed layup and putback by the Raiders as time expired at home against Gahanna-Lincoln last season that would have sent that game to overtime on January 19th, 2018. Instead, the Raiders fell by a score of 60-58. But not even a year later in the Burg, Willoughby would dominate particularly on defense in his first varsity start, finishing with 10 points and 9 rebounds: one rebound short of a double-double.
“It feels good to be back,” Willoughby said immediately after the game. “It was a big win, and we always wanted to get at Gahanna-Lincoln since we lost to them twice last year.”
Sean Moore would finish his second start with 11 points and 7 rebounds in his OCC-Ohio debut, while Fort would add 6 rebounds and 3 blocks to cap off a strong finish for the Raiders.
With the huge win, the Raiders improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Ohio division.
GAME 3: Watkins Memorial (12/10/2018)
Warriors 25, Raiders 43
Nine months after defeating the Warriors by a score of 63-54 in the second round of the playoffs last season, the Raiders would get a crosstown rematch against Watkins Memorial.
It may not have been a pretty result, but at the end of the night, the Raiders won by 18.
After an 8-8 tie just six minutes into the game, the Raiders would score the final five points of the first quarter to go up 13-8 over the Warriors. But the Raiders would be held scoreless in the entire second quarter, missing all of its field goal attempts and all five free throws. That being said, the Raiders only trailed 16-13 at the half by allowing only 8 total points by the Warriors, remarkable considering Reynoldsburg’s scoring drought of just over eight minutes between the end of the first quarter and early in the third quarter.
However, that would quickly seem like an afterthought, as Reynoldsburg opened the second half with 10 unanswered points to take a 23-16 lead with 1:59 to go in the third quarter capped off by a no-look bounce pass in traffic from junior guard James Dean to Xavier Prince for a layup. The Warriors would answer back, though, scoring six of the final eight points to close out the third quarter, cutting Reynoldsburg’s lead to 25-22 going into the fourth quarter.
And then the Raiders began to pull away.
Prince would open the fourth-quarter scoring with a pair of free throws, Nick Wallace would score hit from downtown and under the basket, Ben Fort would add two more from the charity stripe, and Sahmi Willoughby and Sean Moore would combine for four more free throws to cap off 13 unanswered points for the Burg to give the Raiders a 38-22 lead with under a minute and a half to go in regulation. The Warriors would only score one field goal in the period with 1:01 to go in addition to a free throw, but two more free throws by Willoughby and a three pointer by Cooper Davis put an exclamation point on an 18-3 period in favor of the Burg.
Reynoldsburg would outscore Watkins Memorial 30-9 in the second half overall and come away with a 43-25 victory as a result. The 25 points scored by the Warriors are the fewest the Raiders allowed in the first half of the regular season.
Wallace would lead the Raiders with 12 points, with Prince and Willoughby each adding 8 points in the win. Fort would score 7 points, with Davis scoring 3 points, Eldon Boateng and Andree’ Mock each adding 2 points, and Moore scoring 1 point for Reynoldsburg.
With their win over Watkins Memorial, the Raiders improved to 3-0.
GAME 4: @Grove City (12/14/2018)
Raiders 68, Greyhounds 53
While the Raiders had won their last three road contests at division foe Grove City coming into their first meeting of 2018-19, the Greyhounds had consistently played the Raiders tough on their home court.
But late in the third quarter, Reynoldsburg would begin to quiet down the Grove City home crowd.
The Raiders trailed by as many as five points in a back-and-forth first half before ending the second quarter on a 15-5 scoring run to take a 31-26 lead at halftime, with Ben Fort, Sean Moore, and Shon Strickland combining for 27 of Reynoldsburg’s 31 first-half points. After what seemed like another even period, with Grove City matching the Raiders blow for blow and eventually cutting Reynoldsburg’s lead to 38-36 with 3:15 to go in the third quarter, the Raiders would call timeout.
Whatever was said in that timeout definitely got the Burg going.
After both teams traded uncontested baskets following the timeout, it was all Raiders in the final two and a half minutes of the period. Josiah Mobley would hit from long range, Andree’ Mock would hit from down low, and Sahmi Willoughby would add a pair of free throws and a monstrous dunk to quiet down the packed Grove City gym. Mobley would then add one more bucket from downtown to cap off 12 unanswered Raiders points to end the third quarter, while James Dean, Willoughby, and Moore which each add buckets of their own to cap off an 18-0 scoring run for Reynoldsburg. With the Raiders up 58-38 with 5:55 to go, Grove City would continue to fight back and trim Reynoldsburg’s lead down to 14, but would get no closer.
Following the buckets by each team out of the aforementioned third-quarter timeout, the Raiders would go on a 28-15 scoring run in the final 10:23 of regulation and leave Grove City with a 68-53 victory. Fort would lead the Raiders with 18 points, with Willoughby and Moore scoring 11 points and 10 points, respectively, giving Reynoldsburg three players in double figures.
With the win, the Raiders improved to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Ohio division.
GAME 5: @Newark (12/18/2018)
Raiders 57, Wildcats 53
To kick off a week dubbed “Murderer’s Row” by Reynoldsburg’s coaching staff, the Raiders would travel to Jim Allen Gymnasium for huge road contest at Newark, where the number “1,605” hung on the end of the court denoting the amount of all-time wins the Wildcats basketball program had up to that point. In arguably one of the toughest road environments in the state of Ohio, the Raiders found themselves down 51-43 to their former OCC-Ohio foes with 5:03 to go in regulation, and they appeared to be in heavy danger of losing for the first time.
But after another amazing fourth-quarter performance by the Burg, the aforementioned “1,605” number would stay the same thanks to an unbelievable Raiders rally.
Newark’s only points after that moment in the game would come on an alley-oop dunk to put the Wildcats up by two with 1:36 to go and electrify the home crowd to a deafening level of noise. With the score at 53-53 after a game-tying bucket by Ben Fort and a missed free throw by the Wildcats with under a minute to go in regulation, Sahmi Willoughby would hit two go-ahead free throws in a Jim Allen Gymnasium full of loud, screaming Wildcats faithful. On the next possession, he would then get a steal before the Wildcats could attempt what would have been a go-ahead three pointer. Willoughby would be quickly fouled, and the Reynoldsburg senior would make two more clutch free throws with 2.5 seconds to go to ice the game.
Reynoldsburg would stun the Wildcats with a 57-53 win as a result to remain undefeated after going on what was a game-ending 16-2 scoring run in the final 5:03 of regulation.
“I just have to hit these,” Willoughby said after that game of having to make those big shots. “I’ve been working on my free throws all of the time in practice, so it paid off. I just zoned [the crowd] out, and did not listen to them.”
“We fought hard and never gave up at all.”
With the huge comeback win, the Raiders improved to 5-0. Worth noting is that Reynoldsburg is the only team to have beaten Newark as of 1/7/2019, and the Wildcats currently sit at 10-1 after most recently a 61-45 win at Mount Vernon.
GAME 6: Pickerington Central (12/21/2018)
Tigers 52, Raiders 45
For the first time in a long time, the Battle of 256 came to the Burg with both the Raiders and arch-rival Tigers undefeated. A packed Reynoldsburg gym was on hand to see this highly-anticipated contest between two of the top teams in Central Ohio with early OCC-Ohio supremacy up for grabs. The Raiders looked to snap a seven-game losing streak to Pickerington Central since their 67-66 road win on December 12th, 2014 with their first home win over the Tigers this decade.
Despite a thriller of a contest in the Burg, and while the Raiders definitely proved to everyone outside of Reynoldsburg that their 5-0 start was no fluke, a home win against the Tigers will have to wait until at least next regular season.
With the Raiders up 41-39 with about five minutes to go in regulation after a go-ahead three pointer by Ben Fort, the fourth-quarter magic present particularly in Reynoldsburg’s last two games was not present on this night. In what was a strong defensive performance overall by both teams, the Raiders would be held without a field goal after Fort’s triple and would miss six of their final ten free throws. Pickerington Central would outscore the Raiders 13-4 to end the game, and the Tigers would score on back-to-back dunks on their final possessions of regulation to add insult to injury and stun the home crowd. Reynoldsburg would ultimately fall for the first time in 2018-19 by a score of 52-45 and extend their losing streak to the Tigers to eight games.
But this definitely won’t be a bad loss for the Raiders in the long run. The Tigers have yet to lose a game as of 1/7/2019 and are the 270 Hoops #1 ranked team in Central Ohio for Division I.
With their home loss to Pickerington Central and first loss of the season overall, the Raiders fell to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio division. While the Raiders are now 3-16 against Pickerington Central this decade, all three wins against the Tigers in this time period were on the road. The Raiders will get a rematch against the Tigers at Pickerington Central High School on Friday February 1st, 2019 at 7:30pm in the final month of the 2018-19 regular season.
GAME 7: Cincinnati Princeton (12/22/2018)
Vikings 53, Raiders 45
Not even 24 hours after their loss to Pickerington Central, the Raiders would look for a quick turnaround at Capital University against fellow defending district champion Princeton High School out of Cincinnati. Both teams finished their previous seasons with a combined record of 42-12 on the way to their district titles, and came into Saturday’s matchup with 5-1 records in 2018-19. Most importantly, they have each picked up where they left off particularly on the defensive side of the ball in the month of December.
But at Capital University, offense and particularly three-point shooting was the difference.
The Vikings would hit six shots from downtown in the first half alone, most of them from well beyond the arc, and in a low-scoring affair, the Raiders found themselves down 28-16 at the break as a result. Both defenses were in a chess match the entire game, but the Vikings would hit two more buckets from long range, including in an eventual burst of seven unanswered points in just over a one-minute time span during the third quarter, putting the Raiders behind by a score of 38-21 with 3:14 to go in the period before what ended up being a late Reynoldsburg rally. Despite not allowing another Vikings three pointer the rest of the way and eventually cutting the lead to single digits, the early damage was too much for Reynoldsburg to overcome in what was a 53-45 defeat.
With their second loss in under 24 hours, the Raiders would fall to 5-2 overall. However, given how Reynoldsburg had performed in their five straight wins to start the season and even in these two close defeats to what were defending regional and district champions, the Raiders definitely came out of “Murderer’s Row” week with confidence and momentum.
GAME 8: Brunswick (12/28/2018)
Raiders 68, Blue Devils 56
Reynoldsburg High School was not in session due to winter break, but the Raiders were busy after the holidays looking to build on the momentum they gained after a grueling three-game stretch the previous week in games against Newark, Pickerington Central, and Cincinnati Princeton. The Raiders played in the third annual Stephen Gussler Holiday Invitational at Thomas Worthington High School, and looked to snap their two-game losing streak against the Blue Devils of Brunswick High School.
Three days after Christmas, the Raiders’ three leading scorers helped do just that.
With the game close for three quarters, another late surge by the Raiders consisting of 23 fourth-quarter points helped the Raiders pull away from the Blue Devils. Ben Fort, Sean Moore, and Sahmi Willoughby combined for 49 points, with Fort scoring 14 of those points in the first half alone and a team-leading 21 points overall for the Raiders. They would outscore the Blue Devils 23-15 in the final period on the way to a 68-56 Raiders victory.
With the 12-point victory over Brunswick, the Raiders improved to 6-2 overall.
GAME 9: Ringwood (Australia) (12/29/2018)
Raiders 55, Hawks 28
Coming off of their victory over Brunswick, Reynoldsburg played their second game in as many days at the Stephen Gussler Holiday Invitational against the Hawks of Ringwood (Melbourne, Australia), and looked to end the 2018 calendar year on a high note.
After allowing exactly half of the 56 points they allowed in the previous day, they would indeed go into 2019 on a high note, allowing less than 30 points for the second time this season with a 55-28 win over the Hawks.
With their win over Ringwood, the Raiders improved to 7-2 overall to go into 2019 on a two-game winning streak.
GAME 10: @Pickerington North (1/4/2019)
Raiders 52, Panthers 64
One day after Reynoldsburg High School resumed its classes in 2019, the Raiders travelled to rival Pickerington North in what was a huge division road game with both teams sitting a 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio. The high-scoring Panthers came into the new year hot with a four-game winning streak with an average margin of victory just over 27 points per game in this stretch since their only loss on December 7th, 2018: an 80-67 home setback against undefeated division leader Pickerington Central.
While the Raiders’ defense slowed down the Panthers for most of the game, Pickerington North heated up late when it mattered most.
In a thrilling contest that was much closer than the final score indicated, the Raiders would lead for the majority of what was a low-scoring first quarter before the Panthers ended with the period’s final four points to take an 11-9 lead over the Burg. Pickerington North would then go on a 14-2 scoring run to begin the second period, scoring ten unanswered points along the way to take a 25-11 lead over the Raiders with 1:09 to go in the first half. Reynoldsburg would cut Pickerington North’s eventual halftime lead to ten points by scoring the final four points of the first half to go into the locker room down 25-15. Ben Fort had 9 points, and Sahmi Willoughby had 6 points for Reynoldsburg at the break.
Then, as it has been the case for a lot of the young season, Reynoldsburg came out swinging in the second half.
Sean Moore would score nine of his 10 points in the third quarter, and the Raiders opened up the half on a 13-4 scoring run to cut Pickerington North’s lead to 29-28 with 3:45 left in the third quarter. Josiah Mobley would then bank a three-pointer high off of the backboard to give Reynoldsburg a 33-32 lead with under a minute left in the period to put a Raiders team that had trailed by as many as 14 points back in front for the first time since the opening quarter.
Unfortunately, the Raiders would not lead again after Pickerington North scored the final five points of the third quarter and two more points to open the final period. After being held to only 32 points in the first 22 minutes of regulation, Pickerington North, who currently leads the OCC-Ohio division with an average of just under 81 points per game scored, would put up exactly 32 more points in the game’s final 10 minutes alone. The Panthers would pull away as a result, and would ultimately end the game on a 32-19 scoring run in this time span.
The Raiders would fall by a score of 64-52 at Pickerington North.
Three Raiders would finish in double figures: Willoughby (12 points), Fort (11 points), and Moore (10 points). Josiah Mobley (7 points), Xavier Prince (4 points), Nick Wallace (4 points), James Dean (2 points), and Andree’ Mock (2 points) would round out the scoring for Reynoldsburg.
With the loss, the Raiders would fall to 7-3 overall and 2-2 in the division: two games behind division-leader Pickerington Central.
GAME 11: Zanesville (1/5/2019)
Blue Devils 38, Raiders 44
Not even 24 hours after their loss at Pickerington North, the Raiders returned to the Burg for their first game of 2019 looking to bounce back and end the first half of the 2018-19 regular season with a win.
Despite a very low-scoring contest overall, the Raiders did just that.
In a game was within one or two scores most of the way, and even though the Blue Devils had the lead a couple of times early in the first period, the Raiders found ways to remain in front. After a tie game after one period and only a 22-21 lead for Reynoldsburg at halftime, the Raiders opened up the third quarter with a 10-4 scoring run to give them a 32-25 lead with 2:57 to go in the period. Zanesville, however, would capitalize off of turnovers by Reynoldsburg and respond with seven unanswered points in under two minutes to tie the game at 32-32 with 1:20 to go in the third quarter after a bucket from downtown.
Ben Fort would break the tie late with a bucket late in the third period, and the Raiders would not trail again despite a back-and-forth final quarter. Reynoldsburg would actually score eight unanswered points to extend their lead to 40-32 with 5:05 to go, but while they led the entire period, missed opportunities on offense kept the Blue Devils in the game late. The Raiders would not score again for just about four minutes, and while Zanesville was only held to two field goals in this span, the Blue Devils would cut Reynoldsburg’s lead to 40-37 with just over a minute to go.
Reynoldsburg would bleed the clock for part of this span, however, and eventually extend their lead to two possessions with a putback bucket by Sahmi Willoughby to go up 42-37 with 52.7 seconds to go. Zanesville would then split a pair of free throws 12 seconds later to get within four points of the Burg, and the Raiders would turn it over with 26.3 seconds to go. However, Reynoldsburg’s defense would fittingly make the biggest play of the night to end the first half of the regular season, as Fort would run up and intercept a Blue Devils pass at midcourt and run the other way for a layup to put the Raiders up by six with under 15 seconds to go.
Zanesville would miss a quick three-pointer on what would be its final possession, and the Raiders would run out the rest of the clock for a 44-38 victory over the visiting Blue Devils.
Fort would lead the Raiders with 14 points, while Moore and Willoughy would add 9 points and 8 points, respectively. Xavier Prince would add 7 points, and Cooper Davis and Nick Wallace would score 4 points and 2 points, respectively, to round out Reynoldsburg’s scoring.
With their win over Zanesville, the Raiders improved to 8-3 overall to close out the first half of their 2018-19 regular season.
THE BIG PICTURE:
Whether each of these eleven games were a win or a loss, there are so many positives to take away for a team that definitely flew under the radar outside of the Burg during the final stretches of the offseason. For example, through this point in the regular season, the Raiders are still the only team to have knocked off Newark (10-1) as a result of their 57-53 comeback win on the road three weeks ago. They are also only one of two teams to have taken down division foe Gahanna-Lincoln, who beat Reynoldsburg in both of their regular-season meetings last season.
Even more, Reynoldsburg held arch-rival Pickerington Central and the 270 Hoops top-ranked Division I team in Central Ohio to a season-low 52 points (as of 1/7/2019) in their seven-point loss. And had it not been for a handful of unbelievable shots from Steph Curry range by Cincinnati Princeton a day later, it would have more than likely been a season low (and a loss) for the Vikings as well. The Raiders also most recently held Pickerington North to a season-low 64 points (as of 1/7/2019), which is very remarkable considering the Panthers have averaged just under 81 points per game after their first nine games, including an 85-56 win over Centennial just over 12 hours after defeating Reynoldsburg to open up 2019.
“We have a lot of hustlers on the team,” said senior guard Xavier Prince. “Everybody really crashes the boards, so there are not a lot of second offensive putbacks for the other teams. We have a lot of small guards this year, so everyone has to step up with post defense when we play bigger teams.”
Worth noting is that the average height of the players on Reynoldsburg’s varsity roster this season is 6’ 1”, which is only one inch shorter than the average height of last season’s Raiders players. However, of the nine seniors Reynoldsburg had on last season’s squad, five of them were 6’ 3” or taller, including forwards Tre Williams (6’ 7”), Cole Crosby (6’ 6”), and Malcolm Murphy (6’ 3”) who were key pieces during its district title run.
While Reynoldsburg’s tallest player in 2018-19 is senior guard Ben Fort at 6’ 5”, forwards Sahmi Willoughby and Sean Moore both stand at 6’ 4” alone, and have also helped create a defense in the paint that has regularly forced tough shots from down low, and a front court presence in general that has been difficult for opposing offenses to penetrate. Prince, who stands at 6’ 3”, contributes regularly on offense as well as the defensive side of the ball in both the paint and the backcourt, and this Raiders defense has also stalled opposing guards with how much they specifically lock down the perimeter.
“Since we’re all close, everyone can play good defense for each other,” Prince went on to say. “We always hustle and get in front of the post, and we always have help because we are a short team. So it doesn’t really affect us if [other teams] are tall or anything. We haven’t shot the ball well, but we do get a lot of offensive rebounds, and it’s only the midway point of the season. So our shooting percentage can always get higher.”
As mentioned earlier, Cincinnati Princeton made eight threes in their 53-45 win over Reynoldsburg this season just before winter break (which was good for 24 of the Vikings’ 53 points), but a good portion of these buckets were attempted from NBA range given how well the Raiders defended the perimeter overall (even though the shots somehow went in the hoop and/or hit nothing but net on the way down). In fact, after what ended up being the Vikings’ eighth and final three pointer just over halfway into the third quarter, the Raiders allowed only 15 more points, though time had expired as Reynoldsburg’s rally from 17 points down came just a little too late.
Even though the Raiders have not fared as well offensively up to this point, specifically shooting the ball from long range, there is still plenty of optimism in terms of how much Reynoldsburg can continue to improve on that side of the ball. After all, last season, the Raiders’ backcourt heated up in February and peaked when it mattered most late in the season, and everyone in the Burg knows what followed in that month and in March.
“You can always find good out of a loss,” said junior guard James Dean. “Yes, we still took the losses, but we still find ways to improve from what we did, and try to do better the next games we play. And we always get to play [Pickerington North and Pickerington Central] again, so it’s good that we can just improve upon what we did in those games, and work on what we do for the next ones.”
Three regular contributors in the Raiders’ backcourt, including two players who were on Reynoldsburg’s opening-day starting lineup, are under six feet tall. Junior guard Nick Wallace stands at 5’ 11”, while sophomore guard Josiah Mobley and Dean are both 5’ 10”.
“We’re doing really well on the defensive side of the ball,” Dean went on to say. “We’re pushing, playing hard, playing good defense, and doing everything our coaches are telling us to do, and we’re getting good results. [Our coaches have] told me that they want big minutes from me, and they want me to bring energy to the floor. They want me to bring a strong part to our defensive side of the ball, and contribute on offense, too. And I think what I am able to do on defense can contribute to the whole game.”
He indeed has contributed heavily on a defense that has not only been not only physically dominant, but statistically as well. Especially over the past few seasons, while performances of this nature from its players may not show up in a box score, Reynoldsburg has done a great job of shutting down top scorers from opposing teams considering its small average team height. Even if it means staying alert in transition, watching for and intercepting long passes, and taking charges when opposing offenses drive in the paint, the Raiders are always busy on this side of the ball.
But Reynoldsburg always looks for ways to improve on their individual and team performances.
“I think we can do better,” said Mobley, who is also in his first varsity season and started for the Raiders on opening day. “We want to do better than our first half. We want to do better against [the OCC-Ohio division], and we were right there against [Pickerington] Central.”
Mobley, along with many players on the current Reynoldsburg roster, played on last season’s JV team that finished with an 18-2 record, and this has certainly helped the first-time varsity starters transition seemingly smoothly over to the next level as described earlier.
“From freshmen year until now, it was definitely a big change,” Mobley went on to say about this transition. “Especially when I am playing varsity, it’s a lot different from JV as well. It was a good season last year in JV, and varsity I feel is going to be a better year. We just have to pick it up, keep working, keep being aggressive, and keep working harder.”
Right now, the defensive numbers definitely speak for themselves.
Based on game results from 270 Hoops, the Raiders are currently ranked first in the OCC-Ohio division and fourth amongst all teams in the Ohio Capital Conference overall with 46.5 points per game on average allowed. The only numbers better than this are Newark’s 45.1 average points per game allowed, Hilliard Davidson’s 43.1 average points per game allowed, and undefeated and defending regional runner-up Hilliard Bradley’s 41 average points per game allowed.
“That’s pretty good,” said Sean Moore of the aforementioned defensive numbers after the win over Zanesville. “We keep our opponents down to a nice low-score level. We mainly need to make free throws, keep our turnovers down, and just keep going with our defense and have a high motor.”
Simply put, Reynoldsburg’s defense has picked up right where it left off last year, and its players in general are quickly improving on top of this.
“It’s actually going pretty well,” Moore went on to say of his first varsity season. “I think I’m starting to develop more as a player now.”
As far as the OCC-Ohio division, which they finished 5-5 in last year, the Raiders managed a split in their first four games of what has and will continue to be a meat-grinder of a league schedule. While the Raiders will need help from their division foes as of this moment to potentially have a shot at a division title, as arch-rival Pickerington Central currently sits two games ahead of the Burg at 4-0 in the division standings as of this moment, these tough games will continue to help the Raiders improve in the long run and prepare them for the playoffs when strong performances matter most. And with the postseason guaranteed for all teams unlike in football and a lot of basketball left to be played, Reynoldsburg has plenty of time to continue to keep on getting better, which they keep on doing with every day that goes by, towards the long-term goals similar to any team of repeating as district champions and advancing further than they did last season.
But in the meantime, the Raiders will continue to focus on one game at a time and the improvements they need to make with the second half of the regular season coming up.
“[We want to] beat [both] Pickeringtons, work on our game, and play a full 32 minutes without letting any plays down,” said Sahmi Willoughby of Reynoldsburg’s goals in the second half of the regular season. “We can’t take off of a play. If we do all of that, then we’d be good. And [make] our free throws.”
Considering where Reynoldsburg already is right now heading into the second half of the regular season and with four new varsity starters, including Willoughby and Moore who have led the team in scoring along with returning senior guard Ben Fort, things are definitely trending upwards for the Raiders.
“We all worked our butts off during the summer,” Willoughby went on to say. “We all knew this was coming, and we basically prepared ourselves after the [last] school year was over. We play hard, work together, and have chemistry. And this chemistry means everything.”
And once the final 11 games of the regular season go into the books, these defending district champions have the potential to make even more noise when late February rolls around.
Not a bad start for the new kids in the Burg.
OCC-OHIO DIVISION OUTLOOK:
Since losing 80-67 against undefeated division leader Pickerington Central (9-0, 4-0) for what has been their only loss of the season, Pickerington North (8-1, 3-1) has won five games in a row and has a lot of momentum one year after being the #1 overall seed in Central Ohio in the 2017-18 OHSAA playoffs. This includes their win over Reynoldsburg (8-3, 2-2), putting the Raiders two games behind the Tigers for first place in the OCC-Ohio division.
Gahanna-Lincoln (8-2, 2-2), Lancaster (4-7, 1-3), and Grove City (5-5, 0-4) round out the remainder of the current division standings as of 1/7/2019.
The Raiders have one game each remaining against Pickerington Central (away), Pickerington North (home), Gahanna-Lincoln (away), and Grove City (home) in the second half of the regular season. Reynoldsburg also still has both of its games to play against Lancaster (home and away) in addition to five teams outside of the OCC-Ohio division: New Albany (3-7), at Westerville South (5-4), Whitehall (6-3), Central Crossing (2-6), and at Eastmoor Academy (3-5), to round out the schedule for the second half of its 2018-19 regular season.
NEXT WEEK’S SCHEDULE + PREVIEW:
The Raiders (8-3) have scored an average of 55.1 points per game this season, and will return home against New Albany (3-7) to open up the second half of their 2018-19 regular season. The Eagles, who have scored an average of 50 points per game and have allowed an average of 53.8 points per game so far this season, lost six out of their first seven games but have won two of their past three coming into this contest. Most recently, the Eagles lost 65-48 at home against Canal Winchester, but bounced back a day later with a 58-44 win over Mifflin on the same day the Raiders defeated Zanesville.
Tip against the Eagles will be at 7:30pm on Tuesday January 8th, 2019 at the Summit Campus of Reynoldsburg High School.
Reynoldsburg will then close out the week at home three days later for their first of two contests against division-foe Lancaster. The Gales have scored an OCC-Ohio division low 42.2 points per game on average, but defensively have only allowed 50.7 points per game on average even with a 90-34 loss at Pickerington Central just over three weeks ago taken into account. Lancaster has lost their past two games that were low-scoring contests, specifically by scores of 48-42 at home against Gahanna-Lincoln, and 43-33 at Philo over the weekend.
Tip against the Gales will be at 7:30pm on Friday January 11th, 2019 at the Summit Campus of Reynoldsburg High School.
Following this game, the Raiders will have a week off before a big road division game: a rematch at Gahanna-Lincoln at 7:30pm on Friday January 18th, 2019. The Raiders defeated the Lions 58-53 at home on December 7th, 2018.
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