Buoyed by a breathtaking 31-5 run spanning nine minutes, Olentangy Orange further boosted its resume with a second straight quality win over the holiday. Four scored between 12 and 17 points for the Pioneers.
Lewis Center, OH – Heading into the New Year, Olentangy Orange is one of the only two boys basketball teams in central Ohio (Bishop Hartley being the other) that is still undefeated. For the record, the Pioneers’ coaches and players are not at all surprised by their early-season success, but some observers apparently are.
“Losing seven seniors to graduation, including three full-scholarship kids, obviously led some people to believe we were either going to be reloading this year, or it at least would take some time for us to jell,” Orange coach Anthony Calo said. “Someone on social media used the word ‘shocking’ to describe our start. Seriously? We had a strong feeling last summer that this team had the potential to be special.”
Senior guard Dylan Joy said the players are using some social media chatter as a motivational tool.
“I’ve read where they’ve said we haven’t played anybody yet,” Joy said. “We’ve gotten two really big wins this week, so what are they going to say now? We’re not going to get big heads or anything, but we’re going into the New Year with a lot of confidence. We know we can beat anybody in central Ohio.”
Orange’s 71-57 win over visiting Westerville Central Saturday in a nonleague contest was impressive on many levels. Known primarily for a suffocating defense yielding just 38 points per game, the Pioneers proved they could trade punches with an up-tempo, high-scoring team with plenty of athleticism and scoring options. Central’s only defeats had come by two and five points to teams with a combined 13-2 record.
Trailing 18-14 late in the first quarter, Orange embarked on an amazing 31-5 run to close the half. Twice amid 12-0 and 14-0 runs, Central called timeout in hopes of stemming the tide. The bottom line was the Pioneers were executing brilliantly and scoring at will on the offensive end, forcing the Warhawks into a half-court game they were ill-equipped to thrive in.
Buoyed by four three-pointers, Joy scored 16 of his team-high 17 points in the half.
“We knew they’d come at us with tempo and our main objective was to keep them from getting downhill,” Joy said. “On offense, it was an amazing stretch we had. We were playing fast and getting good shots, and we were really locked in defensively.”
Junior Ellis Appiah provided a huge lift off the bench during the deluge and afterwards as well.
“Coach always tells me my role is to provide energy and that will get me more playing time,” said Appiah, who scored six of his 13 points in the final two minutes of the half and seven more in a strong fourth-quarter finish.
“Ellis has some talent and a real knack for the ball,” Calo said. “He’s really persistent. He was a little frustrated about his playing time a few weeks ago, and I told him that he had to earn my trust in practice. He took that to heart and has really picked up his effort since.”
To no one’s surprise, Central answered with an 18-0 run to shave Orange’s lead to 47-41 in the final minute of the third quarter.
“We might have gotten a little too tight thinking about protecting the lead and (the Warhawks) fed off that and went down and scored in transition a lot,” Calo said.
From slightly behind the basket in the dead corner, Joy hit an incredible leaning three-point shot at the buzzer of the third quarter but official waved it off, claiming it hit the strap connected to the support. Video evidence suggested otherwise. Regardless, Devin Brown hit a three on the opening possession of the fourth quarter that kick-started a 14-2 run and allowed Orange (8-0) to coast to victory.
Sophomore point guard Levi Davis added 14 points and five assists and Brown 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. Those were the only two rotational players returning from last season’s 21-4 team that reached a Division I regional title game.
Dallas Tucker scored 14 points, Maceo Harper 12 and Isaiah Brown and Devin Martin 11 each for Central, which is on the climb back up after falling to Centerville 43-42 in the 2021 state championship game.
“Our work behind doors is what has made this all possible,” Appiah said. “We knew we had plenty of talent returning from the varsity and (20-0) JV team, but we had to show people first. Our preparation and team unity is just off the charts.”
Joy said the current players built an unspoken bond well before they enrolled at Orange and playing a small part of last year’s historic team only boosted their will to succeed.
“Honestly, we’re more connected this year than we were last year,” he said. “We were determined not to take a step back, like many people expected we would after losing all those great players. This is a very unselfish team with great chemistry.”
While back-to-back wins over Westerville North (6-2) and Central (6-3) solidified Orange’s status as the leader of a crowded, parity-laden crop of teams in Division I, upcoming Ohio Capital Conference Central Division games at Upper Arlington (5-2, 1-1) Friday and back home Jan. 9 against Hilliard Bradley (5-2, 2-0) will offer major tests.
“It’s been really fun working with this group because they’re talented, selfless and connected,” Calo said. “They care more about the team their own individual performances.”