COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The stakes were high, and the level of play even higher on Friday night, resulting in a dramatic last-second ending for the ages with Gahanna’s undefeated record on the line.
Friday night brought a primetime showdown between two of the area’s best as undefeated Gahanna (13-0) travelled to square off against a surging Pickerington Central (7-4), and the game lived up to the hype and then some. A stand-out effort by super sophomore Sean Jones and a buzzer-beating shot by Maceo Williams allowed Gahanna to come out unscathed from the hostile Pickerington Central environment, as they won 44-42 in an instant classic.
Jones set the tone early, nailing two pull-up jumpers amidst “overrated” chants by the Pickerington Central student section to give Gahanna the lead out of the gate. While each team would trade baskets down the stretch of the first quarter, senior Nate Staib converted two acrobatic shots to close out the quarter and give the Lions an 11-7 lead at the end of the first.
However, Pickerington Central grabbed the lead less than two minutes into the second period on two Conner Maciag threes and suddenly led 13-11. The Tigers gained momentum as the quarter went along, as junior Garner Wallace began to heat up, and another three by Maciag extended the Pickerington Central lead into double-digits.
Back-to-back baskets by Sean Jones to close out the half, one being a transition three with under a minute left in the quarter, pulled Gahanna within five points and made it 26-21 Pickerington Central going into the break.
It appeared as though Pickerington Central would regain their momentum with a show-stopping alley-oop conversion by freshman starter Sonny Styles, but the play was thwarted when Styles excessively hung on the rim and received a technical after the dunk.
Sean Jones made both of the ensuing free throws to kill the Tiger momentum. Jones went blow for blow with Pickerington Central as the quarter closed, and brought it to a 40-37 game going into the final period.
As the fourth quarter opened, Sean Jones made it clear that Gahanna would not back down despite trailing for a majority of the game up to that point, putting a filthy step-back move on his defender and nailing a pull-up three to tie the game less than a minute into the quarter.
The game then developed into an absolute defensive dog fight, as the score remained tied at 40 points for over four minutes of game time until junior big man Maceo Williams was fouled down low and knocked down two free throws to push Gahanna ahead.
Pickerington Central looked like they were going to tie it up when sophomore Josh Harlan broke free in transition with no one ahead of him and the ball in his hands. However, the shot attempt was erased by Sean Jones on an impressive chase-down block that kept Gahanna ahead 42-40.
Pickerington Central maintained possession, though, and an isolation drive and score by senior Tahleik Walker knotted the game up at 42 points with under 50 seconds to go in regulation.
With both teams in the bonus and under 30 seconds to play, Sean Jones stood alone at the top of the key with the ball, appearing to be holding for the final shot. Jones dribbled his way around the perimeter to the right wing as the clock wound down under 10 seconds, and attempted to put a move on his defender to create space for a jumper. Jones then picked up his dribble, shot faked, pivoted, and wound up smothered by his defender with under five seconds left on the clock. In desperation, he found a flashing Maceo Williams near the free throw line and hit him with a bounce pass.
The game now rested in the hands of Williams. Catching the ball with around two seconds left on the clock, Williams made a quick turn-around move and floated a shot towards the rim as time expired.
The ball found the bottom of the net with the scoreboard reading double zeroes and the guest team, Gahanna, ahead 44-42. Ball game.
After his buzzer beating shot, Williams’ Gahanna teammates and the student fans in attendance mobbed the junior, whose heroics allowed the Lions to come away with a hard fought victory and steal a road victory away from a very talented Pickerington Central team. More importantly, though, Gahanna kept their undefeated record intact and added another statement win to a resume that rivals the best in the area, if not the state.
Despite their offense faltering down the stretch of the game, Pickerington Central proved themselves as a serious contender this week with a win over #8 ranked Westerville South and a down-to-the-wire finish over this unbeaten Gahanna team. Garner Wallace finished with 12 points and three steals, and senior Conner Maciag had 11 points that included three made three pointers. Freshman Sonny Styles had five blocks and is flashing his potential as one of the most physically gifted players in his class as he works back into the rotation coming off of injury.
Sean Jones was the best player on the floor against Pickerington Central and has proven time and again why Gahanna’s undefeated start is no fluke: Jones is just that good. He had 21 points that included three made threes and had some highlight plays on both ends of the court that shut down the gym. Maceo Williams, Nate Staib, and junior Jarius Jones each added six points in what was an all-around gutsy team effort by Gahanna.
Gahanna record remains unblemished as they come away with a big in-conference win over Pickerington Central. And, on a night when Sean Jones stole the show, it was Maceo Williams who became the hero for the Lions.