COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Deja vu. The last time that No. 4 Bishop Hartley and No. 3 DeSales met up, it ended with a game-winning three from Hartley senior Morgan Safford.
In a primetime district final clash between the two CCL programs on Saturday night, we saw the same narrative, just a different hero.
After Hartley let the Stallions climb into the driver's seat late in the fourth, Safford made an excellent basketball play, kicking the ball to junior Colby Rankin in the corner where he hit the game-winning triple, pushing the Hawks to a 50-48 victory.
Coming out of the gates blazing, Hartley jumped out to a quick 12-2 lead. They received production from the entire roster early on, a good sign for a team who relies heavily on the scoring ability of Safford.
Senior center Jordan Kirkbride had a solid opening frame with two tough post scores and a good quarter on the glass.
However, DeSales slowly made their way back in it as a mid-range jumper from junior Kobe Righter cut the deficit to 13-8 after one.
The Hawks increased their lead to 20-12 after a big triple from Rankin in the second, but DeSales responded with an 11-4 run to end the half.
After a big dunk from senior Kay Derden, Rankin answered with a layup before the buzzer and DeSales went into the locker room ahead 25-24.
Holding Safford to four points in the first half, the Stallions executed their gameplan to a tee. This even warranted some "overrated" chants at the senior wing. This was a bad idea.
Opening the second half by knocking down three straight triples, Safford went on a 9-0 run by himself and helped the Hawks regain the lead, ahead 33-25 with 6:03 left in the third. This put the Hawks in the drivers seat as they went into the final frame ahead 37-29.
Beginning the fourth with an and-one followed by a tough post score, Safford had Hartley in good shape, leading 42-31 with 5:45 left in the contest.
They held onto this for about two minutes, as a layup from senior Chase Albanese put them ahead by eleven once again, leading 44-33 with 3:50 to go.
After this, the wheels fell of the track for Hartley.
Following a three-pointer from senior Anthony Sciarroni, they forced two turnovers. These led to a pull-up from Derden and a two free throws from Righter, cutting the deficit to 44-40 with 2:58 left to play.
Despite Hartley answering with two free throws from Safford and one from Kirkbride, four straight made shots at the stripe put DeSales in good shape, down just 47-46 with 1:06 left.
After DeSales sophomore Obed Achirem missed the front end of a one-and-one, Watson grabbed the rebound and put it back, helping the Stallions take their first lead since the first minute of the third, ahead 48-47 with 20 seconds left.
It looked like both Safford and Rankin got fouled on the next possession for Hartley, but there was no call and DeSales sophomore Jayden Hawkins-White went to the line for a one-and-one.
After he missed the front end, Safford grabbed the rebound and the Stallions threw a double-team at him. This left Rankin wide open in the corner, where he let the triple fly and buried it, leading the Hawks to their first district title since 2015.
Safford led Hartley with 22, while Rankin scored 10 and Kirkbride contributed seven.
For DeSales, Watson led the way with 16 points in a solid outing. Derden also scored 14, while Righter contributed nine and Sciarroni scored seven.
Hartley advances to the Kettering regional where they will take on Dayton Northridge on Thursday at 8 p.m.
Morgan Safford (6’4 WG / Bishop Hartley / 2019): Another 22 point performance was needed for Safford to lead his team to victory tonight. With a reputation as a volume scorer, the stud senior kept his field goal attempts down and scored very efficiently tonight.
At 6-foot-4, the senior wing has a ton of requisite guard skills to play as an off guard in larger collegiate lineups. Safford has a solid handle and changes directions well, which allows him to create open looks for himself in space, frequently looking for his pull up jump shot. His pull up equity and speed off the dribble should allow him to work in DHO’s and thrive on weak side set actions like curling off a stagger screen. His handling ability and shot creation should translate better in a lower usage role in the future. Outside of executing dump offs attacking the lane, Safford flashed some weak side passing vision within the flow of Hartley’s offense.
Defensively, Safford should have no problem guarding 2-3 positions at the next level. He has the length and athletic tools to be a standout on ball defender, but needs to continue to stay engaged on the ball. His high school role is currently out of context where he frequently plays off the ball and is Hartley’s best rim protector, regularly making weakside rim rotations.
Another unsigned prospect, if you’re a mid-major program Safford should be a hot commodity. I’d like to see him to continue to develop his passing value and consistent off ball awareness. Nevertheless, Safford has been one of, if not the most dominant player in Central Ohio this season. He should thrive in an off ball role and possibly as a secondary handler. If you’re a mid-major that likes to get up and down the floor and values versatility, Safford will fit in perfectly.
Kayin Derden (6’2 CG / DeSales / 2019): The unsigned senior was quiet to start the game, but started to get more comfortable as the game went on, finishing with 14 points.
At 6-foot-2, Derden has a slight frame, but a plus wingspan. Offensively, the senior is strictly an off ball guard. He works well off movement and flashes the ability to improvise his own reacting to how his matchup defends it. Derden is one of the more efficient shooters off the catch and off movement that you will find in the area. He has enough handling coordination to attack closeouts and regularly displays weakside vision off the dribble. I’d like to see him continue to improve his handle in the future to add onto his shot creation ability, which would make him even more of a threat off movement.
Defensively, Derden was the best off ball defender on the court tonight. He seems to have improved from the beginning of the season, making quality rotations throughout the game. On the ball, he does have a tendency to struggle against quality handlers. He doesn’t cut defenders off laterally rather than stepping back. This leaves him susceptible to pull ups and giving up driving lanes to east/west handlers.
Derden has plenty of value as an off ball guard and Division III’s and NAIA’s should be looking at him heavily. He probably works best in a slower paced offense where can consistently work off movement throughout the game.
Desmond Watson (6’5 WF / DeSales / 2021): In previous showings from Watson, he has played much more as a big than a wing, but as the season has went on for DeSales, he started to develop more into his true wing role.
At 6-foot-5, ideally you would like Watson to develop into a wing. On top of strong positional size, the sophomore also has long arms, solid leaping ability, and a great frame. Offensively, Watson showcased his shooting ability in the first half by knocking down a spot up three and three pull up jump shots in tonight’s game. He currently has enough handling coordination to attack a closeout in one to two dribbles consistently. However, he did flash a quick crossover into a pull up that had me really excited in the first half.
Defensively, Watson has quick feet on the perimeter for his size. The sophomore will likely blossom into an ultra versatile defender that should be able to guard three to four positions.
Watson is a prospect with a ton of potential and his late season surge was great for his stock heading into spring. I’d like to see Watson continue to develop his perimeter scoring game by improving his handle and shooting consistently. His off ball defense will continue to grow in time as he continues to become more comfortable on the floor. Watson’s going to be a name to keep an eye on next season as a potential breakout prospect.