COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Licking Heights might be the hottest team in the Central District, and they put an exclamation point on their regular season Wednesday night, knocking off Groveport 59-52 for their 17th-straight win.
Groveport got things started by giving Licking Heights a taste of their own medicine, with up-tempo full court pressure. The Hornets struggled with this pressure, while the Cruisers were red hot from behind the arc.
Junior Markell Holmes and senior Scotty Lomax each pitched in a pair of three pointers to get the Cruisers out to an early lead. That did not last long however, as Licking Heights answered with a 7-0 run led by senior Sean Harper Jr. off the bench with back to back triples. The Hornets trailed 20-13 after one quarter.
Groveport’s three-point barrage helped extend their lead to double figures, hitting eight triples in the first half. Senior Denero Warner helped spark a comeback for the Hornets with seven points in the quarter. Despite the comeback, the uber-athletic Lomax finished the first half with 10 points to help the Cruisers to a halftime lead of 34-28.
In the second half, both teams slowed down the tempo of the game by really getting after it on the defensive end. Licking Heights switched up their defensive attack with a matchup zone, which really gave Groveport fits.
The Hornets zone defense held the Cruisers to just six points in the third quarter, to close the gap to just one point. The switch to a zone defense turned out to be the game changer. Groveport settled for tough contested shots, while the Hornets junior Yara Conde and senior Dennis Gilmore-Holley dominated the paint grabbing nearly every rebound and limiting second looks for the Cruisers.
Conde started the fourth quarter by finishing through contact and drawing the foul, to give the Hornets their first lead of the game. Groveport junior Abubakar Diallo tried to keep his team close, dropping two deep three pointers midway through the quarter. However, Groveport could not put together any consistent run and once Licking Heights secured the lead, they never looked back.
Licking Heights reached several impressive milestones this season by grabbing their first league title since 2013 and their first winning record since 2018.
The Hornets were about as balanced as you could get on Wednesday, with four different players in double figures. The LCL-Buckeye's leading scorer on the season, senior Jaivon Miller finished with eight of his 10 points in the second half when his team needed him the most. Warner picked up the scoring slack for the Hornets adding a game high 18 points.
When executed efficiently, the Hornets got whatever they wanted in the paint, led by their big men Conde and Gilmore-Holley, who combined for 18 points and 19 rebounds on the night to help fuel the Hornets to victory.
Lomax was a huge spark off the bench for the Cruisers with a team high 16 points, which included a trifecta of triples. The senior is a confident scorer with the ability to get points at all levels.
The Hornets now enter tournament play as one of the hottest teams in central Ohio when they host Hilliard Davidson in the OHSAA Division I Sectional Semifinals on Feb. 23.
The Cruisers will look to bounce back this Feb. 12 when they host Newark in an OCC-Buckeye clash. Groveport will be a dangerous matchup as tournament play nears, If they can find the shooting touch they showed in the first half of this game, they could play spoiler for some higher seeds.