COLUMBUS, Ohio – Deer Park sophomore guard Mark Wise stayed up until 1 a.m. Thursday studying the Lutheran East basketball team on YouTube.
The film study certainly paid off several hours later at the Schottenstein Center.
Wise scored 16 points including 13 in the first quarter while junior center Joseph Hocker had 10 points and 18 rebounds to help lead Deer Park past Lutheran East 66-48 in front of 6,606 in a Division III state boys' basketball semifinal Thursday night.
Deer Park was also led by senior forward Jalen Rose, who scored a game-high 18 points and had four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Junior guard Ibrahima Athie added 12 points.
Deer Park (28-0), ranked No. 2 in the season’s final Associated Press state poll, will play for its first state basketball title at 2 p.m. Saturday against either Canal Winchester Harvest Prep (28-0) or Columbus Africentric (20-6). Canal Winchester Harvest Prep was No. 1 in the season’s final poll.
“Like I tell everybody, we are in unfamiliar territory here,” Deer Park coach Steve Gentry said. “We are learning as we go along. I will take it – 28-0.”
Wise studied Lutheran East on film and figured he could take advantage of their man-to-man defense. Wise was aggressive from the start – getting to the rim early as he scored the Wildcats’ first six points.
His field goal at the 1:44 mark of the first quarter gave Deer Park an 18-5 lead. Deer Park's first-half advantage was never in doubt.
The Deer Park players seized the moment. They're enjoying the opportunity.
“It was amazing,” Wise said. “Before we even left, just seeing all the (Deer Park) fans and seeing the kids. It just makes you want to bring a state title home. We just said we were going to play our heart out. I felt like we played our best game tonight and we came out with the win.”
The Wildcats were also aggressive in rebounding the ball early. The Wildcats had 50 total rebounds, including 28 in the first half.
Hocker’s 18 rebounds are the most he’s recorded this season, according to the Cincinnati Hills League website. (The regional tournament does not include stats).
“Joseph Hocker did a great job on the glass,” Gentry said. “He pretty did everything we asked him to do.”
The Wildcats will attempt Saturday to become the first undefeated area boys’ basketball team to win a state title since Georgetown (28-0) won in Division IV in 2007.
No area boys’ basketball team from Hamilton County has won a state title while going undefeated, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association records.
“It’s huge,” Gentry said. “You guys know the history of Deer Park. You know they have been in the cellar for a long, long time. I just believe even now, whether we win the game or not, we have brought so much excitement back to the school, to the community.”
Only one Deer Park team has ever won a state championship, according to the school athletic department. The baseball team won the Class AA baseball title in 1977.
Gentry said the Wildcats will formulate a game plan Friday and will be prepared for Saturday.
“With the kind of season we’ve had this year, a big crowd everywhere we went – home and away,” Gentry said. “So I knew these guys were ready and prepared for the moment.”
Gentry addressed a postgame media question about why none of his players made the all-state teams (first through third teams). He said it's all about the team.
“You’ve got to realize something guys,” Gentry said. “There is a lot of people that wish we weren’t here. There is a lot of people that don’t want us to be here. And those are the people that are voting (for postseason honors). Everybody feels like we did things the wrong way. Like I tell everybody, and this is going to be my last time saying it: OHSAA has cleared everyone of no infractions. None. So the people that think we cheated to get here – deal with it. We are playing for a state championship on Saturday.”
Lutheran East (14-14), the 2017 Division IV state champion, was led by senior guard David Gulley III with 14 points including four 3-pointers. Senior forward Jordan Burge had 11 points.