After squandering a big second-half lead, Delaware Hayes righted the ship and hung on to edge Westerville North in an OCC Capital showdown between undefeated teams projected to make a lot of noise come tournament time.
Westerville, OH – While a boisterous sellout crowd held its collective breath, Delaware Hayes senior standout Jesse Burris toed the foul line with 1.1 seconds left in an early-season Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division showdown against Westerville North with the weight of his team, fans and community seemingly on his shoulders.
“Honestly, it felt like any other free throw shot I’ve ever taken,” the 6-foot-4 Ohio University signee said. “That’s why you practice free throws so much. That’s why you put yourself in a lot of big-time situations to prepare for moments like this. I had all the confidence in the world that I’d make them.”
Cool as a cucumber, Burris knocked down two foul shots with 1.1 seconds left, giving the Pacers a 59-58 win over a feisty North team that rallied from 15 points down in the second half to make it the white-knuckler everyone expected. The teams traded leads four times in the final 91 seconds.
After freshman Tyson Perkins, who provided an enormous spark off the bench, drove from the key to the basket to send the Warriors ahead, 58-57, with 25 seconds left, Delaware called timeout at the 9-second mark to plan a final shot. When the Pacers showed their inbounds formation, North countered with a timeout.
“We wanted to see where they put Jesse on the floor,” North coach Shan Trusley said. “We were pretty sure they’d set some screens and find a way to get it back to him, but any information we could get would be helpful. Maybe the timeout would get them to change their play.”
There’s no way that was going to happen, according to Delaware coach Adam Vincenzo.
“We practice for these situations all the time,” Vincenzo said. “We came back with the same play. We were trying to catch them in a defensive switch, and we definitely wanted the ball in Jesse’s hands. We were hoping to get him down low.”
After maneuvering back to the free throw line, Burris drew a foul on from Micah Young while shooting a leaner.
Asked what his confidence level was in Burris making the foul shots, Vincenzo smiled and said “Ten out of ten.”
Burris was a first-team all-district and second-team All-Ohio choice last season, averaging 18.1 points and 8.8 rebounds.
Delaware smothered the ensuing inbounds play and Young’s tightly-contested 70-foot heave landed about 20 feet short.
“What a high-level basketball game,” Vincenzo said.
The battle of unbeaten teams, both of whom have been tabbed as district championship caliber contenders come March, took a lot of twists.
Using its quickness and pressure to keep Delaware out of rhythm, North (4-1, 1-1) turned a bevy of early steals into a 10-3 lead. But once the Pacers got into their half-court sets, they were virtually impossible to stop. An 11-1 response run eventually expanded into a 40-25 lead midway through the third quarter.
In the final minutes, North turned up the thermostat in a big way, creating a more frenetic pace with its athleticism and aggressiveness. In turn, Delaware lost its edge and appeared to be playing not to lose.
Young scored 21 points and Tai Perkins added 12. Tyson Perkins scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter comeback that fell just short.
“We showed a lot of heart coming back in the second half, but Delaware made one more play than we did tonight,” Trusley said. “To their credit, Delaware played their game at their pace. Their zone, which we had never seen, really bothered us. That’s a really good basketball team with a lot of different ways to hurt you on both ends of the floor. Burris is a real good player and he’s got a lot of talented kids around him.”
Delaware’s chief strengths are its crisp ball movement, offensive balance and versatility.
“I would say we’re pretty hard to guard,” Vincenzo said. “It’s a pick your poison thing. We’ve got different guys who step up in different situations, and tonight was no different.”
Burris finished with 19 points and Jeremiah Russell and Carter Piatt-Brown 14 each to lead the Pacers (5-0, 2-0), who capped a 20-5 season with a loss to Olentangy Orange in a district title game.
Missing from the equation the past three games has been 6-7 swingman Landon Vanderwarker, who is battling a sprained right wrist and an illness. He is expected to return next week.
Vanderwarker, a district player of the year and first-team All-Ohioan Division IV Northside Christian, who averaged 22.8 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.7 steals last season, transferred to Delaware in September, heightening already high expectations for the Pacers, who are shooting for their first district title since 1986. Vanderwarker is rated as the No. 11 junior player in Ohio by PrepHoops.com and aspires to play for a Power Five conference program. Ohio State is among those interested.
“We played in the same AAU program (Midwest Basketball Club) and I got to know Landon pretty well,” Burris said. “It’s definitely a huge confidence boost to get him here. He adds a lot of versatility to what we do. Not many people of his size in Ohio have the kind of skill set he does. He’s an extra piece for opponents to worry about.”
Vincenzo already had lofty expectations for his team before the surprise news came.
“The transition with Landon has been seamless,” Vincenzo said. “He’ll create more matchup problems, give us more length and rebounding potential and lets us play different type lineups. He adds another dimension, for sure.”