COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Wilmington boys’ basketball team could’ve easily folded.
The Hurricane trailed by 16 points at halftime.
Heck, it trailed by 20 points just 40 seconds into the third quarter. Senior forward Alex Miller, the team’s third-leading rebounder, didn’t play due to injury.
But throwing in the towel is not the Wilmington way.
Although Lima Senior defeated the Hurricane 61-58 in a Division I state semifinal Friday night in front of 15,292 at the Schottenstein Center, the Wilmington players and coaches made a community proud.
Friday's attendance was the largest for a Division I state tournament game since 2007. Fans saw the significant amount of heart and determination that Wilmington brought to Ohio State.
“I’m really proud as a coach for what these kids have done,” Wilmington coach Mike Noszka said.
“I think what beat us tonight is the only thing we let beat us, and that’s the clock. I remember looking at the clock when we were down 20, and I said, ‘There is no way it can end this way.’ And it didn’t. This group fought back. We have a cause that is a lot bigger than the people in that locker room. Our cause is our town. Our cause is our school.”
Wilmington (27-2) trailed by nine entering the fourth quarter (47-38) and started to chip away in the fourth quarter. The Hurricane scrapped and clawed until the end, getting after loose balls and pulling down rebounds on both ends.
“I think it’s everything our program is about,” Noszka said. “There is a lot of pride there. I told these guys in the locker room, we were down six with 13 seconds and people are leaving. You don’t know too much about Wilmington.”
Wilmington got within three at 61-58 after senior guard Jarron Cumberland (University of Cincinnati signee) made three consecutive free throws.
Lima Senior missed two free throws with six seconds left and Wilmington had a chance to tie the game, but a 3-pointer was short as time expired.
Lima Senior point guard Xavier Simpson (Michigan signee) – named Associated Press Mr. Basketball this week – had 25 points and nine rebounds.
Cumberland finished with 25 points and nine rebounds in his final game. He finished with 2,408 career points – good for No. 15 on the OHSAA career points list.
Cumberland also won 90 games in his Wilmington career. He helped Wilmington go 51-4 the past two seasons.
Noszka couldn’t say enough about his standout. He said earlier this week Cumberland would prefer to win state than worry about individual awards.
“He’s going to do a lot of winning, not only at UC, but he’s going to do a lot of winning in life,” Noszka said.
Cumberland had tears in his eyes at the postgame press conference. Cumberland said he will remember his teammates and the coaches in the Wilmington program.
“Playing for coach for four years, he made me into a tough guy, and he always told to play until there were zeroes on the clock and always compete,” Cumberland said.
Wilmington sophomore guard Jeffery Mansfield added 14 points, including 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. Sophomore guard Dylan Beaugard added 11 points.
“The one word I would use to describe Wilmington would be ‘tough,’” Lima Senior coach Quincey Simpson said. “The people I talked to and the film I saw – those guys never quit, and they had opportunities to do that in the first half. We made a little bit of a run, and they never quit. It showed the character of those guys over there.”
The Hurricane made their first state tournament appearance since 1927. The Wilmington athletic department sold 2,300 pre-sale tickets. A sea of orange filled the home side of the student section.
Wilmington trailed 35-19 at halftime, and it looked at times that Lima Senior (29-0) would run away with the game in the second half.
Noszka told his team in the locker room at halftime to step on the floor at the start of the third quarter and look at the thousands of fans seated with Wilmington attire.
“I just want to thank the city of Wilmington,” Noszka said. “The way they supported us was second to none.”
Lima Senior (29-0) – Wilson 3 0 7, Ward 3 3 10, Simpson 9 5 23, Flowers 4 0 8, Stafford 4 3 11, Thomas 1 0 2. Totals: 24 11 61
Wilmington (27-2) – Stewart 2 0 4, Beaugard 4 3 11, Cumberland 6 12 25, Mansfield 3 6 14, Wolary 2 0 4. Totals: 17 21 58.
3-pointers: L 2 (Wilson, Ward). W 3 (Mansfield 2, Cumberland).