Olentangy Orange junior Devin Brown and Hilliard Bradley senior Cade Norris, both talented 6-foot-5 guards, entertained the sellout crowd with a terrific head-to-head individual battle. But Brown got the last laugh as the Pioneers moved to 10-0.
Lewis Center, OH – Olentangy Orange’s three returning varsity players — plus a crop of underclassmen promoted from the JV and freshman teams — created some everlasting memories during a historic 24-4 season that featured the program’s first district championship before culminating in a narrow Division I regional final defeat to Pickerington Central last March.
Just about all of those memories were glowing ones.
“Because we see them twice a year, it’s become kind of a rivalry,” Orange 6-foot-5 junior guard Devin Brown said, referring to Tuesday showdown at home against Hilliard Bradley for the Ohio Capital Conference Central Division lead. “And the fact they beat us twice last year surely didn’t sit too well with any of us.”
Brown and his jacked-up teammates went out and did something about it, edging Bradley, 52-50, in an epic back-and-forth battle between two teams expected to make noise when tournament play begins in about six weeks. Sixth-ranked in the first Associated Press state poll, Orange ran its record to 10-0 and 4-0 in league play, but it sure wasn’t easy.
“What a great high school basketball game,” Pioneers 12th-year coach Anthony Calo said; “Just for a second, during a break, I was thinking about, ‘This has got to be a fun game for the spectators.’ As a team, this certainly makes us feel great, especially since first place in the league was on the line and they handed us two of our four losses last season. They’ve had our number recently.”
A fascinating, game-long, mano-a-mano individual battle between Brown and Bradley senior standout Cade Norris, a first-team All-Ohio player and Illinois State signee, finally came to a head in the closing seconds.
After Norris sank two foul shots to tie it, 50-50, with 1:10 remaining, Calo called time out and decided to play for one shot.
“I wanted to hold it and get a certain look that I thought would give us our best chance to score,” he said. “We wanted to spread the floor and put Devin in a position to let him make a play, whether it be by passing it, pulling up and shooting it or driving to the basket to get a good one-on-one opportunity.”
Brown, an exceptional all-around talent certain to attract Division I recruiting attention, drove to the right side of the basket and drew a foul to the body by Norris. He sank both free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Although Bradley (7-3, 3-1) still had a timeout in its pocket, trigger man Andrew Lamb had difficulty finding an open man and threw a baseball pass to a double-covered Norris near the three-point line. It was batted down, and the boisterous Orange student section rushed the floor in celebration.
There were 10 lead changes and nine ties in the contest.
“The whole idea on the last possession was to get downhill,” Brown said. “In the second half, it was hard getting into good spots, but we showed enough resilience to pull it out.”
The first half was a relatively fast-paced, free-flowing affair that was deadlocked at 30-all. Orange, which came in allowing 41.3 points, made some significant adjustments and took over the game defensively.
“They were getting too many clean shots,” Calo said. “Our coverages were a little off and we got them fixed at halftime.”
Sophomore guard Levi Davis, who paced the Pioneers with 13 points and four assists, played a smooth floor game after being stymied early.
“It was a great environment out there tonight,” Davis said. “We definitely came in with a different mindset in the second half. We slowed things down a little and really buckled down on defense.”
Bradley went roughly seven minutes without a basket until freshman Ben Mirgon hit a three-point shot with 2:05 remaining to make it 50-48. Still, the cliffhanger went to the final second.
“They deserved to win it,” Jaguars veteran coach Brett Norris said. “It was a highly competitive game, but I think ultimately their toughness, transition game and rebounding made the difference.
“Their performance defined energy and physicality. Their quickness allowed them to win most of the 50-50 balls. We were on our heels too much.”
Norris won the individual battle, racking up 25 points, eight rebounds and four assists. But Brown, with 12 points, 12 rebounds and four rebounds, won the war.
Davis led the way with 13 points and four assists. Dylan Joy added nine points.
“Cade’s a little older than me and I haven’t seen him much except when we play against each other,” Brown said. “I watched a lot of film to learn his moves and tendencies. All you can really do is try to force him into tough shots.”
The elder Norris had this to say about Brown: “Devin has really improved on both ends of the floor. I have a lot of respect for him and his team.”