[This is my column in the Jan. 17 issue of The Commercial Review.]
Any time a team loses a close game, more often than not, it wants another shot.
The Jay County High School boys basketball team will get a second chance against the Leo Lions at 6 p.m. tonight.
But the stakes are higher.
The Allen County Athletic Conference tournament championship is on the line.
“I don’t want to be too excited about (the) rematch because sometimes you don’t want what you get,” JCHS coach Craig Teagle said after his team’s 49-30 semifinal victory over Bluffton on Wednesday. “They may just prove they’re the better team, and that’s fine.
“We get that chance, and it’s an opportunity for our kids to be motivated and say, ‘Is that the true outcome, or can we do something about it?’”
On Dec. 9, Jay County was in perfect position to send the game into overtime.
Sophomore forward Jay Houck’s potential game-tying 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds missed the mark in the Patriots’ 44-41 loss to the Lions.
Senior guard Zach Pryor said he and his teammates have been itching for another shot at the Lions.
“We’ve all been wanting to play them again, go out there and see who’s the better team,” he said, adding that a neutral site should change the dynamic of the title game. “I think it helped them with home-court advantage. More shots are going to go in.
“They hit a lot of threes on us, but we’ll be playing a lot better this time.
Since the loss to Leo — which marked back-to-back defeats — Jay County (10-2) has rattled off six straight wins, four of which were in dominating fashion.
After destroying Randolph Southern by 29, the Patriots beat Winchester by three in overtime and held on to beat Fort Recovery by two.
In their last three games — all against conference opponents — their smallest margin of victory was 19 points. Jay County beat Adams Central by 25 on Saturday and dismantled Southern Wells on Tuesday by 26 before the 49-30 defeat of Bluffton on Wednesday.
Jay County’s average margin of victory is 13.8 points, which ranks 34th in the state and No. 11 in Class 4A.
Leo, on the other hand, is No. 15 in the state (and No. 3 in Class 3A) in scoring, as it averages 72.7 points per game. It has eclipsed the 80-point threshold four times, including the last three games in which it scored 107, 83 and 93 points respectively.
The Lions’ margin of victory (15.3) is No. 9 in Class 3A and No. 27 overall, and they’ve won its previous three games by a combined 71 points. They beat South Adams in back-to-back games — 107-77 on Saturday and in the ACAC opener Tuesday, 83-73 — before depositing defending conference tournament champion Woodlan, 93-62, in the semifinal Wednesday.
But when Leo hosted Jay County on Dec. 9, the best defensive team in the state slowed down its high-powered offense. The Patriots, which are surrendering a state-best 31.8 points per game — six points fewer than second-ranked Orleans — held the Lions to their lowest point total of the season.
So tonight, expect another low-scoring affair, because Teagle said after Wednesday’s game that his team has made big strides lately in terms of its play at the defensive end of the court.
“I thought our defense was really good tonight,” Teagle said after the Bluffton win. “I thought we did a good job communicating. I thought our hands were active. (It was a) really good defensive effort after two games where I thought they were mediocre efforts … as far as communicating and getting matched up.”
A title for Leo — the last remaining original member of the ACAC — will be its 21st and last conference championship, as it is set to leave following this season.
If Jay County wins, however, it will be the first time since Ossian (now Norwell) in 1966 that a team won the ACAC title during the same year it joined the conference.
Pryor is relishing the opportunity to be the first team at Jay County to win an ACAC tournament title and to send the Lions packing on their way out the door.
“It’s awesome,” he said “Not being in a conference for a while … it’s my last year, going and getting it, that would be awesome.”