Despite hitting a season’s high eight three pointers, the Decatur boys’ comeback fell short in Thursday night’s 56-52 semifinal loss to Woodward.
Earlier in the day Decatur’s girls overcame a 17-2 deficit to beat Woodward by one, and the boys nearly duplicated that feat.
In fact Decatur had possession trailing by only three with 30 seconds left, but on a pass to the wing Murad Dillard stepped out of bounds with 10.7 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs fouled at 8.4 seconds but Woodward’s Marcus Hall sealed their fate when he hit his first free throw.
The victory put Woodward into Friday’s 8:30 p.m. championship against St. Pius X, which went into overtime Thursday to beat Cedar Grove by two on a buzzer beater.
Decatur will play a 5:30 p.m. Frida consolation game against Cedar Grove for a third seed in next week’s state tournament.
“I really feel that ours is the toughest region in the state,” said Woodward coach Anthony Thomas. “There just isn’t much difference between the top five teams. All the coaches are good, the defenses are good, and in the end it depends which way the ball bounces.”
Early on the ball bounced plenty good for Woodward which carved out a 28-13 lead in the first 12:38. Decatur seemed paralyzed by Woodward’s whole-court assault which Thomas practically describes in terms of a symphony.
“We have three different presses with variations,” he said. “I’m not gonna tell you anything more because it’s a company secret.”
Basically Woodward played a full-court man-to-man, a half-court 1-3-1, and the essential feature of both were waves of frenzied jump traps. Decatur committed eight turnovers alone in the first quarter – at one point Woodward had steals on three consecutive possessions – and 14 of its total 16 turnovers in first half that ended with Woodward leading 32-20.
“It really isn’t that complicated,” said Decatur coach Charlie Copp. “We knew it was coming but we didn’t execute. In our press break, if our guys stay too close to one another, the traps will kill you. If you get good spacing, then the traps have to run further.”
Which is what Decatur did in the second half, and those waves of traps gently fizzled out like ripples on the beach. Once Decatur solved the press, it got into its half-court offense and began hitting shots.
The Bulldogs hit a remarkable seven three pointers in the second half. For the game they shot 17 of 47 from the floor for 36 percent, roughly the team’s season’s average, but they hit 8 of 21 threes for 38 percent, nearly 20 percentage points above the seasonal norm.
Davante Meadows, who’d hit only 1 of 17 threes coming into this game, nailed three over a 5:56 stretch in third and fourth quarters. After one of the roughest games of his career a night earlier, Meadows came off the bench Thursday to play one of his best, getting 11 points and eight rebounds.
“I don’t think our presses or our traps were any less effective [in the second half],” Thomas said. “I thought we did a good job. But Charlie [Copp’s] a good coach, and if you keep showing him the same looks he’ll make you pay. Give them credit, they adjusted, then they started hitting timely shots and by the end of the game we were in survival mode.”
The biggest shot of all was the third of Murad Dillard’s three pointers, coming with 1:22 left, and cutting the lead to 55-52. But on this night the Bulldogs would get no closer. Dillard, also coming off the bench for the second straight night, turned in a second straight superlative performance, scoring 17 points.
Woodward was led by senior point guard Benjamin Russell’s 19 points, which Thomas called, “a big time example of pride, versatility and leadership in a big game.” Meantime Woodward’s 6-3 junior Trey Williams added 14.
Decatur is now 16-11 and gets a shot at redemption against Cedar Grove, which beat the Bulldogs by 19 and 25 earlier in the year.
“We’re playing our best basketball right now, no question about it,” Copp said. “But we’ve got to come out and play with more energy from the start and recognize situations early on and not wait so long to adjust.”
St. Pius X 49
Cedar Grove 47
St. Pius X 54
Blessed Trinity 41
4 p.m.: Woodward (3 seed) vs. Blessed Trinity (4)
5: 30: Cedar Grove (2) vs. Decatur (5)
7 p.m.: Decatur (2) vs. St. Pius X (1)
8:30 p.m.: St. Pius X (3) vs. Woodward (1)