Cincinnati Roger Bacon coach Brian Neal has a connection to that school’s two earlier boys state basketball championships, but Lima Central Catholic will be trying to keep him from connecting with a third title on Friday.
Neal was an assistant coach when Roger Bacon beat Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and LeBron James in the 2002 Division II state championship. And he was an 11-year-old watching in the seats at St. John Arena when Roger Bacon won the 1982 Class AAA title, including a controversial semifinal win over Lima Senior.
LCC (23-4) and Roger Bacon (22-4) will play at 2 p.m. in a Division III state semifinal at Ohio State’s Value City Arena. In the other Division III semifinal, last year’s D-IV state champion Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph (21-7) will play Columbus Ready (21-5) at 10:45 a.m.
“My father Wes Neal was the band director at Roger Bacon for 42 years. So I grew up at the school,” Neal said.
“I still have an autograph book with the autographs of all the guys on that 1982 team and I still talk to Bob Callahan, who was the coach on that team, quite often. So certainly I have an understanding of where this program has been and where it is now. I don’t remember a lot about that (Lima Senior) game but I do remember every game was a one or two-point game,” he said.
On paper, at least, it does not appear this game will be one of those plodding, low-scoring struggles that have become so common in high school basketball.
LCC averages 69.3 points a game and Roger Bacon is the second-highest scoring team in any division in the state tournament at 73.8 points a game.
But some of that offense for both teams starts with defense.
“We like to turn it up and make it an up-tempo game. We’re a defensive-minded team and we’re going to pick you up fullcourt and hopefully we’re going to get some turnovers and pick up easy baskets. If we need to sit down and play a halfcourt style defense, we’re capable of doing that,” LCC coach Frank Kill said.
Neal said, “We’ve averaged close to 70 points a game so we’re certainly not afraid to push the pace a little bit. The majority of our points are going to come in transition and in early offense. One of the things we do well is share the ball.
“Defensively, we’re 94 feet of man-to-man. We don’t necessarily trap a lot but we’re going to make you earn all 94 feet,” he said.
Roger Bacon’s leading scorer is 6-foot, 3-inch senior Carlas Williams, one of two Spartans with more than 1,000 career points. Almost half of Williams’ shots have come from 3-point range and he hit six of them in a regional championship win over Summit Country Day last Saturday.
Their No. 2 scorer Austin Frentos, a 6-foot, 3-inch senior, averages 14.2 points a game and also has more than 1,000 career points. He is Roger Bacon’s sixth man.
Fred Moore, a 6-foot, 7-inch senior, averages 10.6 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. Dahmere Epperson, a 6-foot, 3-inch junior averages 7.8 points a game. Three-point specialist Cody Niesen averages 6.3 points a game and point guard Reggie Williams scores 4.2 points a game. Seventh man Trey McBride averages 7.2 points a game.
“I think Roger Bacon’s strengths are something we really need to key on, which is our weakness. That’s post interior defense. But I think our strength, which is our guard play, might be something we can really build on,” Kill said.
“On Friday I think it’s going to come down to who is going to make the best defensive plays. It’s going to come down to defense and rebounding, taking away Roger Bacon’s size underneath and limiting them to one shot,” he said. “For us to get to Saturday we’re going to have to be disciplined and play a flawless game in terms of giving them extra possessions. If we turn the ball over, it’s going to be a long night.”
Martyce Kimbrough, a 6-foot, 1-inch senior guard, leads LCC in scoring at 18.6 points a game. Sophomore point guard Xavier Simpson is scoring 18.4 points and 6 assists a game. Dantez Walton, a 6-foot, 4-inch post player averages 9.9 points a game. Sophomore guard Tre Cobbs is scoring 9.3 points a game and junior post player Jake Williams averages 5.0.
LCC advanced to the state tournament after losing in the regional tournament in 2013 and 2012. Roger Bacon had an even longer streak of regional frustration before Saturday with four consecutive regional championship game losses from 2010-2013.
“We’ve got a group of seniors who have played in the regional finals every year and our goal hasn’t changed since the day they walked in the door. That’s to get to Columbus with a chance to win the state title,” Neal said. “While it was like that proverbial monkey off our back, it wasn’t long before they said ‘We’ve still got two more games.’ ”