CLEVELAND HEIGHTS – The old line vendors selling programs at ball games use about not being able to tell the players without a program certainly applied to Lutheran East’s boys basketball team early this season.
The Falcons, who will be Delphos St. John’s opponent in a Division IV state semifinal on Thursday, had three players sit out 11 games after transferring, had two others who transferred in and could play right away and last year’s starting point guard transferred out to Cleveland Central Catholic.
Tyler Powell, a 6-foot guard who averages 12 points a game, and Keandre Graves, a 6-3 junior forward who scores 12 points a game, were starters last season when Lutheran East lost in a regional championship game to eventual state champion Cornerstone.
But this year’s other three starters, 6-foot, 3-inch forward Jordan Burge (18 points a game), 6-foot guard Maurico Tate (17 points a game) and 6-8 center Justin Motley (8 points a game), all played somewhere else last season.
Lutheran East (18-9) is in the state tournament for the first time since 2009 and was Division state champion in 2005 after Columbus Africentric had to forfeit its championship.
“We’ve had a phenomenal season. We played a really tough schedule with some of the schools who are competing for state titles in other divisions with teams like Villa Angela-St. Joseph and Lakewood St. Edward’s,” Lutheran East coach Anthony Jones said on an Ohio High School Athletic Association teleconference on Monday.
“We had some ups and downs We had a few transfer kids who had to sit the first 11 games. We’ve been kind of getting everybody acclimated the second half of the season to what we were trying to do and we made a nice run in the tournament. We played really good competition and that pushed us,” he said.
Lutheran East, located in Cleveland Heights, did not win more than three games in a row until it got into the tournament.
It has had three close games in the postseason – a 48-40 district semifinal win over Mogadore, a 69-64 overtime win against Malvern in a regional semifinal and a 67-64 win over Warren John F. Kennedy in its regional championship game.
“Beating some bigger teams and better competition really got us going into the tournament,” Jones said.
It took a while to successfully combine the returning players with the newcomers, Jones said.
“You think you’re all on the same page in practice but when you get in a game you realize the lack of game experience and the time your guys didn’t have together,” he said. “Hitting our stride and coming together as a unit, I would probably say it was pretty close to the end of the season.”
Jones said he hadn’t seen much film of Delphos St. John’s but has been impressed with some things about the Blue Jays.
“From the little bit I’ve seen of them so far they have a big kid (Tim Kreeger) who is phenomenal down low offensively and he’s really active defensively, too. He blocks shots, he’s really a paint presence.
“They look like they shoot the three pretty well. So we’re going to have to keep those guys in front of us, keep them away from the basket and contest all shots and I think we’ve got a good chance to walk out victorious,” Jones said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.