AKRON — One thunderous blow from a jackhammer broke the ice.
The right arm of Nigel Hayes was the strike Toledo Whitmer needed Saturday to pull away from Medina 51-39 in the University of Akron Division I Regional championship.
In ending the improbable tournament run of the Bees (10-16), who were just the third team in Medina County history to reach the round of eight, the Panthers (23-2) advance to face St. Edward on Friday in the state semifinals at Ohio State University’s Value City Arena.
“Plays like those are what Coach (Bruce Smith) calls his pick-sixes,” Hayes said. “That was more like a batted interception, a pick-six and a touchdown celebration dance.”
With the teams trading physical blows, brick after brick and Whitmer holding a 29-26 lead late in the third quarter, Medina’s Lucas Supan dribbled into traffic near the top of the 3-point arc to set up the play of the night.
The ball was stripped and eventually poked high into the air near midcourt. Panthers point guard LeRoy Alexander (11 points, 6 rebounds) used his impressive vertical to tip the ball to Hayes (17 points,
8 rebounds), who was leaking out in anticipation of a turnover.
Hayes then corralled the rock, took a few dribbles, extended his right arm to the right and threw down a game-changing dunk. Supan fouled Hayes on the play, and the 6-foot-7 forward canned the free throw in front of the vastly outnumbered Whitmer student section.
“That really got our team going, and really got our crowd into it, which gave us momentum,” Hayes said. “That pushed us forward the rest of the quarter and the rest of the game.”
The highlight-reel sequence kicked off a 17-3 Whitmer run, which also featured a buzzer-beating putback at the end of the third quarter by Alexander, who later added a pair of two-handed slams.
With the way 6-1 Ricardo Smith was locking down 6-8 Michigan State recruit Kenny Kaminski (3 points, 1-of-10 shooting), there was little hope of a Medina comeback.
“They’re a really good basketball team,” Bees coach Anthony Stacey said. “They’ve only lost two games for a reason.”
Kaminski wasn’t the only player who struggled to score. Whitmer’s defense was that good.
Medina’s rock during its postseason run, Mason Schreck, finished with four points on 2-of-7 shooting while battling against 6-7, 270-pound Michigan football recruit Chris Wormley and 6-8, 300-pound Storm Norton and attempting to keep up with Hayes at the other end.
Meanwhile, Alexander’s ‘D’ on Logan Winkler (3 points, 3 assists) was so strong Billy Geschke (14 points) took over the point in the second half, and take out 1-for-1 performances from backups Ian Law, Lucas Supan, Nick Fryer and Mike Ellenbest and the Bees’ were 5-of-19 (.263) from the floor in the second half.
“They’re definitely the best defensive team we’ve played and their probably the most physical,” Stacey said. “They have a bunch of football guys that guard you and buy in.”
How Medina hung around for nearly three quarters was relatively simple: The first half was brutally ugly, the Panthers proved they couldn’t shoot (1-of-11 3-pointers) and no one could guard Geschke.
Whitmer began the game on a 7-0 run using a NBA-style isolation offense that baffled many because of the Panthers’ clear advantage in athleticism and team speed, as Hayes, Alexander and Smith settled for jumpers.
Meanwhile, Geschke asserted himself quickly after breaking Medina’s 4:32 scoreless drought to being the game. The 6-1 junior scored all eight of Medina’s first-quarter points on 3-of-4 shooting, but the problem was no one complemented him, as the Bees finished the half 6-of-20 from the floor.
Luckily for Medina, Whitmer wasn’t much better with a 7-of-25 effort, and the Bees actually held a 15-14 lead at recess.
“It felt pretty good coming after my performance during the last game,” said Geschke, referring to a 1-of-6 effort against Elyria 48 hours earlier. “As a player, you always don’t remember what happened in the past. You always look to the next game because that’s what matters most.”
The teams went back and forth for much of the third quarter, when the Panthers began attacking the basket with more frequency. Medina’s key scorers continued to struggle, but role players Dillon Wiesler, Supan and Law made huge shots to keep the Bees afloat.
That is until Hayes slammed home the game-changer.
“That’s the name of the game at this point — you’ve got to make shots,” Stacey said. “Unfortunately tonight we just couldn’t get the ball to go in the hole.”
With 2:34 remaining, a driving Hayes was fouled by Ian Law. Hayes and Kaminski, who was protecting the rim, continued through the whistle, and Kaminski ended up knocking Hayes to the ground after hard contact.
No call was made despite vehement pleas from Whitmer fans, but Hayes, who plays for the same AAU program as Kaminski, took no offense to the play.
“That was accidental,” he said. “That’s that All-Ohio Red love he has for me.”
• Chase Johanson, Jordan Bybee and Mike Kaminski made their varsity debuts when the benches cleared.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.