COLUMBUS, OH – Since defeating Newark 53-46 at Otterbein University on March 5th, 2016 for their last regional title, Reynoldsburg would lose four straight meetings to the Lady Wildcats. This included a 69-56 loss this season on the road just under twelve weeks ago that would begin a three-game losing streak in December. Even despite the Lady Raiders figuring out their roles since, catching fire in the regular season as a result, and winning a district championship along with 16 of their last 17 games, nobody outside of the Burg gave the #5-seeded Lady Raiders a chance against #2-seeded and state-ranked Newark on March 5th, 2019 in the regional semifinals at Otterbein University.
Yet here they are amongst the last eight teams in the state of Ohio still standing.
Reynoldsburg (21-6) would put on a defensive clinic and hold high-scoring, sharp-shooting Newark (23-4) to just 21 points in the game’s first three quarters. The Lady Wildcats, however, would nearly double their scoring output in the 4th quarter alone as a result of a late rally to trim a 13-point lead by the Lady Raiders with 3:13 left to just four points a minute later. Reynoldsburg senior post Uju Ezeudu would not let the Burg be denied, as she would cap off a postseason performance for the ages with seven of her game-high 23 points in the final 1:46 of regulation to help Reynoldsburg overcome 19 turnovers and hang on for a stunning 47-40 upset of Newark to advance to the regional finals.
“This means so much to me and my team,” said Ezeudu of advancing. “We work so hard in practices, and we knew that we had to get to this spot because we wanted it and we needed it. Two and a half months ago, we weren’t the same team we are now. We were just learning our weaknesses and our strengths, how to play with each other, get in the flow, and play as a team. For me, I wasn’t scoring as much as I was trying to pass the ball, but I learned that I had to rebound and score to keep this team going. If I score, my teammates feel that they have to score too, so that’s really helping us.”
The University of Denver bound and 6’ 0” Ezeudu has been the team’s number one go-to scorer this year, and she reached exactly 500 points on the season and 1,333 points in her career following Reynoldsburg’s win over Newark. Through five postseason games in 2019, Ezeudu has now has averaged a double-double of 17.4 points and 10 rebounds per game to lead the Burg, including a pair of 20+ point performances in her last two games.
She wasn’t the only one Newark had problems containing in the paint, either.
Reynoldsburg 6’ 2” freshman post Alexia Mobley also added 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in arguably the best performance of her career with everything on the line, giving the one-two punch of Ezeudu and Mobley a combined 37 points and 21 rebounds with both of them each making 50% of their field goals.
“I’m just excited,” Mobley said immediately after the win. “This is my freshman year, and getting this far has been really crazy and exciting. We know that [Newark] didn’t have very much size, so we basically did our thing. [Uju Ezeudu] knows how to get open, and she’s a monster. She was just really dominant in the post, and that’s what we really needed.”
This was a much different result from the Lady Raiders’ 69-56 loss at Newark High School’s Jim Allen Gymnasium on December 18th, 2018: a game where the Lady Wildcats shot 43% from the field, made 10 out of their 30 three-point attempts, and defensively held Mobley to just six points. In their rematch at Otterbein University, Newark shot only 25% from the field and only made 5 out of their 25 three-point attempts, even despite a pair of 13-point performances from Emma Shumate and Gabby Stare to lead the Lady Wildcats.
Even more, Reynoldsburg dominated Newark in rebounding by a margin of 52-28 in the regional semifinals: a much better result than the 36-27 margin in favor of the Lady Raiders back in their regular season meeting in December.
“We have a lot more chemistry now,” Mobley went on to say. “We’ve gotten closer together as a team and we know our roles. We need to continue to dominate the post, keep ourselves motivated, and continue to practice hard.”
And there would indeed be more practices for the Lady Raiders as a result of their huge win on Tuesday night.
Ezeudu would open up the game’s scoring just over thirty seconds into the contest with the first of her eventual 11 field goals from the paint. After each team traded empty possessions in the next minute, a layup attempt by the Lady Wildcats would roll off the rim, but even despite a block of a layup by Reynoldsburg’s Destiny Fields at the other end, Ezeudu would get a couple of offensive rebounds and a putback to put the Lady Raiders up 4-0 with 5:15 to go in the 1st quarter.
Newark would then turn the ball over at the other end, leading to the first of six total buckets by Mobley at the other end to push Reynoldsburg’s early lead to 6-0. The Lady Wildcats would then finally connect on a layup attempt to get on the board with 4:20 left in the opening period, cutting Reynoldsburg’s lead to 6-2.
Newark seemed to come to life at this point, scoring from downtown after a miss from behind the arc by Fields, cutting the Lady Raiders’ lead to 6-5. But an answer from long range by Reynoldsburg freshman guard Makiya Miller, who started for the first time this season and in her career, put the Lady Raiders up 9-5 before two more long range buckets by the Lady Wildcats in the last 1:41 of the 1st quarter gave Newark an 11-9 lead over Reynoldsburg at the opening-period buzzer. A bucket in the paint by Newark to open the 2nd quarter would extend the Lady Wildcats’ lead to 13-9 just forty seconds into the second period.
Reynoldsburg would not be phased.
With Newark having now scored eight unanswered points going back to the opening quarter, a bucket in the post by Ezeudu would break a 4:16 scoring drought for Reynoldsburg, and two more quick buckets by the senior post would put her at double digits halfway into the 2nd quarter and give Reynoldsburg the lead. After a layup by Newark tied the game back at 15, Mobley would then score the half’s final two buckets to cap off a 10-2 run by Reynoldsburg to end the half after Newark’s first basket of the 2nd quarter. This would give the Lady Raiders a 19-15 halftime lead that they would not lose again.
“She was outstanding and played with some poise,” said Reynoldsburg head coach Jack Purtell of Mobley. “She always brings a lot of energy, intensity, and all of the intangibles.”
Her senior counterpart in the post definitely agreed.
“She has so much upside,” Ezeudu would say of Mobley. “This is why she is one of the best freshmen in the state.”
And if it wasn’t already apparent Reynoldsburg was on a mission to the packed Otterbein University crowd, it become very clear in the 3rd quarter.
Reynoldsburg would open up the second half on a 12-2 run with a bucket from down low by Mobley, a three-pointer by senior guard Bre Johnson on a second chance attempt from behind the arc, a shot from downtown by Fields, and one more basket in the paint each by Ezeudu and Mobley to go up 31-17 over Newark with 3:48 left in the 3rd quarter. Both teams would then remain relatively even the rest of the period, with Mobley splitting a pair of free throws and Ezeudu scoring one more late 3rd-quarter bucket to push Reynoldsburg’s lead to 34-21 heading into the final eight minutes of regulation.
Both teams would score 5 points each to open the 4th quarter, including a pair of free throws by Johnson to end this stretch and keep Reynoldsburg up 39-26 with 3:13 to go and seemingly in a position to close the game out from there.
But Newark would finally come alive late to set up a wild finish on Reynolds Court.
In a span of just 30 seconds, Newark would score on a bucket-and-one and then connect from behind the arc on their next possession to cut Reynoldsburg’s lead to 39-32. After just thirty more seconds, Newark would score another bucket and draw a foul much to the excitement of the numerous Lady Wildcats fans in the crowd. Newark would hit the ensuing free throw, resulting in a 9-0 run in just 60 seconds to stun the Reynoldsburg faithful and cut what appeared to be a comfortable lead to just 39-35 with 2:13 to play.
But Newark would get no closer.
Ezeudu would then draw a foul and miss the front end of a one-and-one, giving Newark the ball back and a chance to get within one possession of Reynoldsburg. Newark would get another good look from downtown that would not fall with under two minutes to go, and Ezeudu would go uncontested to the basket at the other end for a layup plus a foul. The resulting free throw would extend Reynoldsburg’s lead to 42-35 with 1:46 to go and give the Lady Raiders their first points in just under a minute and a half. After the Lady Raiders rebounded a missed field goal by Newark, the Lady Wildcats would then force a turnover under a wide-open basket for an easy layup, cutting Reynoldsburg’s lead to 42-37.
Ezeudu would then quickly answer at the other end, and a split pair of free throws by Mobley would put Reynoldsburg back in front by a score of 45-37 with 48.8 seconds to go in regulation. A three-pointer by Newark with 23.7 seconds to go would then cut Reynoldsburg’s lead to 45-40 and result in a timeout by the Lady Wildcats.
“For me, I never stop playing until the buzzer goes off,” Ezeudu said of this moment. “So even though [Newark] hit the three, I knew there was 23 seconds left and that we knew we had to play hard. And that’s what we did. When the buzzer went off, it was kind of a relief, but not a relief because we have a game [on Friday March 8th].”
Out of the timeout, Ezeudu would score on one more layup to put the Lady Raiders up 47-40 with 17.5 seconds to go. Time would then run out for Newark, who would miss one more field goal attempt before an ecstatic Reynoldsburg team dribbled out the remaining seconds of the clock with the Lady Raiders on top by a final score of 47-40.
These 40 points by the Lady Wildcats be a season-low for a Newark team that finished the regular season 8th in the final AP regular season poll and with a 23-4 record overall.
And next up for the Burg on the Westerville Regional Revenge Tour? Arguably one of the biggest games in program history with all of the circumstances considered.
Just over ten weeks ago, the Lady Raiders were sitting at 4-5 on the year. Tonight, they are still standing prior to what will be a third and final Battle of 256 for Reynoldsburg and defending state champion Pickerington Central with more on the line than ever: a regional championship and trip to the Final Four, to be exact.
“[Uju Ezeudu] plays like Uju does,” Purtell would go on to say. “[Alexia Mobley] played well, and Uju played well. I thought we guarded [Newark] really well at the [three-point line], and they are so good offensively. To hold them to 40 points is amazing. We had a hard time finding ourselves when the season started, and it was like we had no chemistry and any idea how to play the game. I think as we got going, we learned, and I think we did a good job getting better defensively. We lost by 13 at their place, and we did get them on a neutral court when the stakes were higher. [Newark] had a bad shooting night, and we were able to get the win.”
But as Reynoldsburg is the last team in the state of Ohio to knock off Pickerington Central as a result of a 55-50 home win on February 2nd, 2018, and the only team in Central Ohio to come within eight points of the 26-1 Lady Tigers this season despite ultimately losing to them twice, the Lady Raiders believe that the third time will be the charm on a neutral court in the regional finals.
“The last loss [Pickerington Central] had in Ohio was to Reynoldsburg, so we’d like to make that their next one,” said Purtell. “We have nothing to lose, and we’re playing with house money right now. Nobody thought we should win [against Newark] except us, and it will be the same thing [against Pickerington Central]. So we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Uju Ezeudu- 23 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals, 11-22 FG (50%)
Alexia Mobley- 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 6-12 FG (50%)
Bre Johnson- 4 points, 9 rebounds
Destiny Fields- 3 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals
Makiya Miller- 3 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists
What a team. What a ride. Five postseason wins in the books, and now three wins away from a state championship with a familiar foe up next.
For the second time in the last four seasons, #5-seeded Reynoldsburg (21-6) will advance to the regional finals. Standing in the way of a regional title will be #1-seeded and defending state champion Pickerington Central (26-1): the top-ranked team in the state. Pickerington Central blasted Westerville South by a score of 71-44 in the earlier regional semifinals game prior to the second one between Reynoldsburg and Newark. Reynoldsburg also had a similar result against Westerville South as a result of a 68-37 home win on January 23rd, 2019.
This will be the third meeting this season between the two arch-rivals; the Lady Tigers won both meetings against the Lady Raiders in the regular season. Reynoldsburg would fall 71-47 at home on December 21st, 2018, but would keep things a lot closer on February 1st, 2019 despite what ended up being a 56-48 road loss: the only loss by the Lady Raiders in their current 17-1 stretch. As mentioned above, however, Reynoldsburg is the most recent team in the state of Ohio to knock off Pickerington Central as a result of a 55-50 home win by the Lady Raiders late in the 2018-19 regular season.
Tip against the Lady Tigers will be at 7:30pm tonight (Friday March 8th, 2019) at the Rike Center of Otterbein University in the 2019 OHSAA Central Ohio (Westerville) Regional Finals.
The winner of this game would advance to the state semifinals at THE Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center on Friday March 15th, 2019 at 8:00pm and play the winner of the Norwalk Regional Finals matchup between Toledo Notre Dame Academy (22-5) and Canton McKinley (25-1). The 2019 OHSAA Division I Girls State Championship would take place just over 24 hours later at the Schottenstein Center on Saturday March 16th, 2019 at 8:30pm.
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