DAYTON - The Moeller basketball team is returning to the Sweet 16.
The Crusaders had four players score in double figures as Moeller defeated Walnut Hills 57-44 in a Division I district final Saturday afternoon at University of Dayton Arena.
Saturday marked the 11th consecutive district final for Moeller and its seventh district title out of the past eight appearances.
“You know, this isn’t easy,” Moeller coach Carl Kremer said. “Everybody has put us up there to be the target. We know that. I think it’s been a struggle … I think the further the tournament goes the easier that becomes a little bit.
“We’re excited. Only 16 teams get to play after today and we’re one of them. We’re no better than anybody else, but we know we got a shot.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Moeller 57, Walnut Hills 44
Moeller (25-0) advances to play Mason in a regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at Wright State University’s Nutter Center. Mason won its district final over Centerville 44-38.
Moeller has set a new program record for most wins in a season (25). But, a trip to Columbus would be worth more to this group of players.
“(The district title) is fantastic to us,” junior point guard Isaiah Payton said. “It’s just another accomplishment we can put on our set of goals. But it’s not the greatest one we want.”
Payton says the Crusaders don’t feel pressure before the game despite being nationally ranked (No. 15 by MaxPreps) and the state’s No. 1-ranked team.
“We focus on being a family as a whole and keep playing,” Payton said.
The Crusaders shared plenty as a team Saturday afternoon.
Senior forward Riley Voss (Cornell signee) had 14 points and nine rebounds. He was 6 of 8 from the free-throw line. His physicality in the low post was key the entire game.
“Riley Voss is a horse,” Kremer said. “He is playing like a senior who doesn’t want to stop playing.”
Senior guard Keegan McDowell (Liberty University) had 13 points and four rebounds, sophomore guard Miles McBride added 13 points and three steals and Payton added 10 points and three assists.
McDowell was 6-of-6 from the free throw line and Payton was 4 of 5. The Crusaders had 32 attempts.
Senior guard Caleb Canter also provided solid defense throughout the game.
“It’s a great team win,” Voss said. “A lot of guys were doing a lot of different things.”
The first half had four ties and was close throughout with Moeller leading 13-12 at the end of the first quarter. Moeller went on an 8-3 run in the final four minutes of the second quarter to take a 24-23 lead at halftime.
The Crusaders pushed the lead to seven twice in the third quarter (32-25 and 36-29). Walnut Hills senior guard Kenny Thompson made two free throws at the 2:20 mark to close the gap to 36-33, but the Eagles wouldn’t get any closer.
Walnut Hills (18-7), which won eight consecutive games entering Saturday, was led by senior guard Jordan Henderson’s 15 points. Thompson had eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
Moeller scored 16 points off the Eagles’ turnovers but Walnut Hills wasn’t able to score any off five Moeller turnovers.
Walnut Hills coach Ricardo Hill said he was proud of his team. The Eagles made their second district final in the past five seasons.
Hill credited Henderson for being the face of the Walnut program this season. Henderson and the other seniors provided solid leadership throughout the winter.
“We had a good season,” Hill said. “We had 11 new guys on this team this year. We had a whole new team.”
Hill is encouraged by the players returning next season, including 6-foot-11 center Abba Lawal.
“Our program has arrived,” Hill said. “We’ve had former players call asking about the team. It’s a sign of a good program. We’re there.”