The first step of the journey is in the books.
It didn’t take long for Oberlin to find its post-season footing and get back to the business of winning tournament basketball games. Playing on their home court for the final time this season, the top-seeded Phoenix made the most of it, dispatching the Norwayne Bobcats 73-45.
With their familiar up-tempo style of play and pressing defense, the Phoenix shook off some early jitters in the first few minutes — they trailed briefly, 10-7 — before running off 15 unanswered points to close the first quarter and open the second.
They extended that lead to 39-18 before the Bobcats closed the gap to 41-27 at the half.
The Oberlin defense generated 12 turnovers in the half, seven of those leading directly to lay-ups or wide open looks from the three point arc. Senior center Donald Johnson shook off a couple misses early to pump in 14 points in the half to lead the team.
The Phoenix didn’t slow down coming out of the break, extending their lead to 62-37 at the end of three. The home crowd sensed the on-court energy and exploded as David Payne III and Zion Hicks hit bombs from three-point land.
“I thought our guys played very well against a solid Norwayne team,” Oberlin coach Kurt Russell said. “There’s something about the tournament that seems to energize and excite our boys — there’s always just a touch more motivation this time of year.”
Johnson led all scorers with 29. His teammates all shared in the point parade as Payne (seven), Hicks (nine), Justin Smith (13), Mark Robinson Jr. (six), Devan Yarber (seven), and Caleb Hughley (two) added to the Phoenix game totals. As a team, Oberlin had a good night on the floor, connecting on 30 of 53 attempts (56 percent), five of 12 (42 percent) from beyond the arc, and eight of 10 (80 percent) from the charity stripe.
Hosting an OHSAA Division 3 Sectional final was just the start for what Russell hopes will be an extended-play version of tournament tunes in 2017.
Last year, this Oberlin squad, now composed of seven seniors and two juniors, emerged as district champions before falling in overtime in regional play. Taking the play to regionals and perhaps beyond to Columbus is something the entire team has had its eye on since last year’s loss in Canton.