Devin Brown racked up 20 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists while dominating down the stretch as Olentangy Orange beat Hilliard Bradley 51-47 in a long-awaited rematch.
Hilliard, OH – It sure helps to have a blossoming 6-foot-5 junior superstar who can handle the ball confidently, knock down 20-foot shots with uncanny accuracy, drive to the basket, post up defenders in the low block and play defense like a banshee. But Devin Brown is far from a one-man gang for Olentangy Orange’s state-ranked basketball team.
“People are starting to find out what a great all-around player Devin is,” Orange coach Anthony Calo said, “but the truth is we’ve got a bunch of unsung heroes around him who make critical plays in big games. We’ve got some excellent athletes who do a lot of different things to help us win games.”
While Brown scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter to help Orange hold off Hilliard Bradley 51-47 Friday in a tense and fiercely competitive Ohio Capital Conference Central Division showdown before a sellout crowd, it was a collective effort of role players who helped the Pioneers rally from an eight-point second-half deficit.
The win not only secured the Central title for Orange (19-1, 9-0), but locked up the No. 1 seed in Sunday’s Central District tournament draw based on MaxPreps’ RPI ratings formula. Bradley (14-5, 7-2) entered the week at No. 3.
It many ways, this long-awaited rematch materialized almost identically to the first meeting Jan. 9 that Orange won 52-50 on a pair of free throws by Brown with 2.5 seconds remaining. It’s safe to say that no one would be surprised – or disappointed – to see the Pioneers and Jaguars lock horns for a third time in March for even greater stakes.
“This was the first goal on our list, to win the OCC,” Brown said. “Bradley took it from us last year (with two Central wins), so we made it sort of personal. We knew we were going to have to out-tough them to come away with the win and I think we did that tonight.”
Bradley opened the second half with an 8-2 run to take a 30-22 lead.
Somewhat out of desperation, Orange turned to a 1-3-1 zone defense, effectively jump-starting a 13-2 counterpunch that turned the contest. Keegan Knupp had three steals in the surge that led directly to Pioneers baskets.
“I’ve never played a 1-3-1 in my whole career of coaching,” Calo said. “But Bradley is so well prepared and plays so with the lead, we had to do something. It was a giant risk for sure, but those five or whatever possessions we spent in it certainly had a huge impact on the outcome.”
Knupp, a standout third baseman on Orange’s state-runner-up baseball team and an Eastern Michigan signee, said the plan all along was to show Bradley different defensive looks.
“Switching to the 1-3-1 definitely made a difference,” he said. “The idea was to get more active in the half-court and show some traps and maybe create some turnovers. The way we bounced back from eight down just shows what kind of resiliency we have.”
Diminutive sophomore guard Treyton Schoeder, an All-Ohio defensive back for the football team, assisted on two breakaway layups during the decisive run.
Bradley coach Brett Norris conceded that the momentum shifted sharply and permanently during that swing.
“We just started playing sideways after that,” he said. “We seemed to take the foot off the accelerator on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter. Give credit to Orange. They really made it tougher on us to get off clean shots in the second half. If there was a five- or six-foot circle in front of the basket, they owned it. It was one of the most physical games I’ve ever been part of, and I suppose they got the better of it.”
The Jaguars pulled to 49-46 with 23.5 seconds remaining as Cade Norris bulled his way for a basket. The Illinois State signee and returning first-team All-Ohioan scored 20 points but had to work for everything he got with Brown locked on him all night.
But Schoeder sank two foul shots at the 15.5-second mark and Brown sealed the deal with his fourth blocked shot of the night. Brown, who received his first three Division I scholarship offers in the past week, also grabbed eight rebounds and handed out three assists. Knupp added 10 points and Levi Davis nine for the Pioneers, who saw their No. 1 ranking and unbeaten season thwarted with a loss to Pickerington Central last Saturday.
“I said all season that we didn’t need a loss to keep improving, but I was wrong,” Calo said. “The burn of that loss to Pickerington Central got us recommitted and burning a little hotter.”
This marks the first OCC title since 2016 for Orange, which took third in the league before its march to the regional final last March. The Pioneers and their fans returned home afterwards for a net-cutting ceremony.
In playing his final home game, Norris hiked his career scoring total to 1,470 points. He is zeroing in on the program record of 1,509 held by Isaiah Speelman.