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District Champs: Walnut Ridge knocks off top-ranked Gahanna to win first title since 2015

By Zach Fleer, 03/07/20, 4:45PM EST

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For the first time since 1971, Walnut Ridge is both City League and district champion

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Walnut Ridge is not scared to play anyone.

The district title that the Scots won on Saturday against top-ranked Gahanna was no accident.

Starting in the summer by playing 40 games in the month of June against the top teams in the state, Walnut Ridge head coach Chuck Jefferson was determined to challenge his group of seniors in preparation for what is currently transpiring for the Scots.

Jumping in the same bracket as No. 1 Gahanna at the Central District tournament draw in February, Walnut Ridge wanted the rematch it got on Saturday.

The Scots were the more physical team in an all-out war of a basketball game which proved to be the difference in a 52-47 district final victory in front of an over-capacity crowd at Ohio Dominican.

Walnut Ridge played with incredible purpose on Saturday, never getting sped up and showing the patience they needed on offense to convert against a tough Gahanna half court defense.

Despite the City League's all-time leading scorer VonCameron Davis being held to a single field goal in the first half, Walnut Ridge was never worried as it took a 23-22 lead into halftime. 

In the second half, Davis woke up, scoring a handful of tough buckets, the latter of which coming midway through the third quarter which extended the Walnut Ridge lead to eight at 32-24.

Gahanna fought back hard behind sophomore guard Sean Jones, trimming the lead to three at 35-32.

Walnut Ridge began the fourth quarter with great desire, refusing to allow a let down, as an offensive rebound put back from junior Myles Garrett pushed the Ridge lead to seven at 39-32.

Walnut Ridge maintained that lead for a large stretch, as Davis went to the line with the Scots leading 43-35 with 2:16 remaining.

This is where things began to go sideways, as Davis missed the first of three-straight front ends of one and one free throws, allowing Gahanna to respond with a 6-1 run to cut the lead to three at 44-41 with a minute remaining.

Jones then brought the crowd off its feet moments later with a crucial steal and and-one bucket that brought Gahanna to within a point at 46-45 with 36 seconds to go.

Walnut Ridge caught a big break when Jones missed the ensuing free throw, allowing the Scots to maintain its one-point lead.

From that point forward, Walnut Ridge never missed another free throw, as seniors Davis and Qian Magwood went 4-for-4 at the stripe to keep the Scots' lead at three.

With a foul to give, Magwood instinctively fouled Jones with 8.7 seconds to go and Gahanna down by three.

The senior Ball State football signee made his biggest play of the game on the ensuing inbound, getting a key deflection which led to a transition bucket from Leon Douglas as the buzzer sounded on Walnut Ridge's first big school district title in 42 years.

For the first time since 1971, Walnut Ridge is both City League and district champion. If history holds true, the Scots will be a favorite for a state title, as the 1971 Scots won the school's only state crown in history.

An all-around team effort was needed for Walnut Ridge with Davis being held to nearly less than half of his average. The Kent State signee had a strong second half, finishing with 15 points. Senior forward Kaveon Ross had an impressive outing, going for 12 points and four rebounds. 

Junior guard Daaron Brown hit some big shots, knocking down two of Walnut Ridge's three triples and adding eight points.

Magwood, while only finishing with five points, was highly impactful with the defense he played on the perimeter against Jones. The senior had a game-high three steals and many more deflections, as he might be the most disruptive on-ball defender in the area.

For Gahanna, Jones nearly did enough to lead the Lions to its first district title in four years, finishing with 21 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. Junior post Maceo Williams finished in double figures with 10 points and seven rebounds, showing great vision as a passer around the basket.

No other player added more than six points for the Lions, who really struggled to find clean looks in the half court that didn't involve Jones creating off the bounce. Sophomore big man Javan Simmons had a strong showing off the bench, banging inside for rebounds and finishing with five points and five boards.

For Walnut Ridge, the Scots win its first district title since 2015 (Division II) and advance to the Division I regional for the first time since 1978. The Scots will be a favorite to represent the Central District at the state tournament if they're able to get by what could be Hilliard Bradley in the regional semifinals.

No matter who wins Saturday's finale between Bradley and Newark, Walnut Ridge will be ready to play come next Wednesday. If Newark ends up beating Bradley, revenge will still be a factor for the Scots as the Wildcats ended their season in the district semifinals a year ago.

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