Undefeated Moeller fights back with big fourth quarter to reach Ohio Division I title game

No. 1 Crusaders beat No. 2 Pickerington Central

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The journey is nearly complete. The Moeller basketball team is nearing the ultimate perfection.

What a sweet opportunity for Big Moe Saturday night.

 “I’m proud of our guys,” Moeller coach Carl Kremer said. “Mission halfway over. We hoped to play one more night and represent our school the right way.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Moeller 57, Pickerington Central 47

Moeller defeated Pickerington Central 57-47 in a Division I state semifinal in front of 11,091 Friday night at the Schottenstein Center.

The Crusaders (28-0) advance to play in the state final against Massillon Jackson at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

It wasn’t easy Friday night for Moeller. Kremer knew it wouldn’t be.

Pickerington Central (26-3) was the most athletic team Moeller played all season. The Crusaders had to limit the transition game and stay in the rebounding battle, which it did.

Moeller had 28 rebounds and scored 12 points off turnovers. Its bench outscored Pickerington Central 19-0.

Moeller had four players score in double figures including a career-high 17 points to go along with seven rebounds from junior forward Jeremiah Davenport.

“I am going to say that is the best he’s played all season,” Kremer said. “Jeremiah is capable of that. Tonight was not a fluke. Jeremiah is a kid with a lot of ability. Everyone saw what he did tonight, but Jeremiah would start for any other team in the state. We’ve had a set starting lineup all year. His attitude about his team never wavered. He’s always had a great role about his attitude on this team.”

Moeller guard Keegan McDowell and Pickerington forward Adrian Nelson hit the floor chasing a rebound. (E.L. Hubbard/WCPO Contributor)

Sophomore guard Miles McBride had 13 points and four assists, senior guard Keegan McDowell had 10 points and eight rebounds and junior point guard Isaiah Payton had 10 points, four rebounds and four assists.

“For my senior year, to have these guys with me - it means everything,” said McDowell, who was named Associated Press first-team all-state earlier in the week. “I’ve worked for this for four years so I finally get one last shot. I’m excited to have an opportunity at it.”

The Tigers jumped out to a 17-11 lead in the first quarter as Pickerington Central sophomore guard Jeremiah Francis had eight of his team-high 16 points.

Kremer admitted not a lot went right in the first quarter, but the Crusaders made adjustments.

Moeller outscored Pickerington Central the remaining three quarters, including 20-9 in the fourth.

The Crusaders grabbed the momentum early in the second quarter with five points from McDowell, a Liberty University signee.

A lay-in from junior Davenport before the buzzer gave Moeller another jolt of energy despite a 26-22 halftime deficit.

Moeller guard Isaiah Payton is covered by Pickerington guard Jalen Horton. (E.L. Hubbard/WCPO Contributor)

Davenport’s field goals put Moeller within three with 4:28 left in the third quarter and within one (36-35) with 2:13 left in the third. The Crusaders took the lead for the first time in the game when Payton found Davenport in the paint for an easy bucket to make it 37-36 at the 1:46 mark.

Moeller held the lead the entire fourth quarter and pushed its lead to seven (52-45) with 2:11 left. The Crusaders outscored the Tigers 9-2 in the final three minutes.

“Tonight I think Moeller was the better team in the fourth quarter,” Pickerington Central coach Eric Krueger said. “If we played five more times, I don’t know. Hats off to them.”

Pickerington Central was led by Francis with 16 points and five rebounds. Senior 6-foot-11 center Sterling Manley, a North Carolina signee, had 12 points and seven rebounds. Junior forward Adrian Nelson had 11 points.

Moeller spread the floor with three minutes left to help keep the clock running on Pickerington Central.

“That end-of-the-game stuff is kind of like a chess match,” Kremer said.

Moeller guard Miles McBride tries to drive on Pickerington guard Jeremiah Francis. (E.L. Hubbard/WCPO Contributor)

Moeller, ranked No. 15 nationally by MaxPreps and No. 1 in the season’s final Associated Press statewide poll, will make its first state final appearance since being a Division I state runner-up in 2010.

Moeller also has an opportunity Saturday night to become the area’s first state boys' basketball champion to be undefeated since Georgetown went 28-0 in Division IV in 2007. 

Moeller could also become the first Division I state champion to go undefeated since Zanesville (26-0) in 1995.

Moeller was the Division I state runner-up in 2010, state champions in 2007, a state semifinalist in 2005 and state champions in 2003 and 1999.

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