HILLIARD, Ohio -- Weeks after Dublin Coffman snapped Hilliard Bradley's 61-game, five-year OCC conference win streak, revenge was on the menu Thursday night in Hilliard.
It may have taken all 32 minutes of the OCC-Central finale, but Hilliard Bradley got exactly what they wanted when Keaton Norris' game-winning three splashed through the net with less than a second remaining - powering the Jags to a 61-59 victory and more importantly, a fifth-straight outright OCC title.
In a game ripe with upperclassmen talent, it was the play of two freshmen that may have made the difference. Bradley guards Jeb Bischoff and Cade Norris were outstanding on Thursday, combining for nine threes and 29 important points.
Bischoff came alive in the first half, burying four threes with none bigger than the 28-foot bomb he hit at the end of the first half to give the Jags a 32-29 advantage.
Coffman did not back down, however, as junior guard Ajay Sheldon did what he has done all year in the area's toughest top to bottom league. Scoring eight of his 22 points in the third quarter, Sheldon helped the Rocks overcome a 40-30 deficit with a crucial 16-6 run to end the frame.
Sheldon came down the floor with 10 seconds remaining and calmly hit a contested three off the dribble to knot the game at 46 heading into the final frame.
In the fourth, Coffman led by as much as five, however, that lead was short lived as Bradley's talented freshmen proved to be a pain to the Rocks once more.
With Coffman holding a 53-50 lead, Norris banged a corner three to tie the game with four minutes left. Moments later, Bischoff returned the favor in a tie game at 55, hitting his fifth trey of the night to give the Jags a 58-55 advantage.
Those would be the final points that Bradley scored until winning time. Coffman switched to a trap defense in the fourth to get the ball out of the hands of Bradley's shooters, resulting in a missed layup and missed front end of a one and one in the final minute.
Four-straight free throws on strong drive fouls from Coffman senior Dylan Van Vlerah allowed the Rocks to take a 59-58 lead in the final five seconds. Van Vlerah knocked in the go-ahead free throw with 5.6 seconds remaining.
When the ball came through the net, Keaton Norris corralled the ensuing inbound pace and raced down the floor to call a timeout in front of the Bradley bench with 3.1 seconds to go.
On the final play, senior AJ Mirgon inbounded to Cade Norris in the strong side corner. With his older brother coming curling to the left wing, Cade connected with Keaton for a shot that will live forever in the Norris family.
Rising up for as clean a look as you could imagine in a late game situation, Keaton Norris hit nothing but net as time expired, delivering a fourth league title in his four years to the Jags and exacting revenge on the team that snapped what was the longest conference win streak in the long history of the OCC.
Norris led all scorers with 19 points, hitting three triples and the most important shot of the night. Bischoff added 15 points on five threes, each one of them timely and important. Cade Norris pitched in 14 points on four threes but provided the bulk of his impact on defense and on the boards where he flourished. Mirgon had another strong showing, adding 11 points and his usual tough defense.
For Coffman, Sheldon was a star once again, going for 22 points and nearly delivering the Rocks to a sweep of Bradley. Van Vlerah and junior Aidan Dring each pitched in 11 points, all in important spots of the game.
The unfortunate part for the Rocks is that they are two defensive stops away from being outright league champs in the OCC. Coffman lost at the buzzer to Olentangy Liberty and then Bradley, the two teams that they would've been tied with in the league, and with wins, would have owned tie breakers over.
That's why all 1,920 seconds count in the game. It was none more evident than last night.
Cade Norris (6'3 PG / Hilliard Bradley / 2024): Thorn. In. The. Flesh. That is Cade Norris on the hardwood. Nobody will outwork the 6-foot-3 freshman, as he had another highly impressive game to lead Bradley to a win. Going for 14 points, Norris was deadly from deep, knocking down four triples, coming off movement, spotting up and off the bounce. Norris is a dominant rebounder for the guard position, as he pulled down a handful of offensive and defensive boards. The freshman has great size and strength which allows him to absorb contact and finish through defenders, most of which are two and three years older than him. We love the IQ, instincts and desire to compete that Norris possesses, as he can make any pass on the floor, can back down and pivot a defender into oblivion, all while having the three-point marksmanship that is as normal to the Norris family as home runs are to the Griffey's. Cade has a game more similar to his oldest brother and current Loyola Chicago starting guard Braden Norris, while having size reminiscent of current Princeton guard Matt Allocco. Sky is the limit for Cade Norris!
Jeb Bischoff (5'10 G / Hilliard Bradley / 2024): It pays to have an elite skill. It pays even more when that elite skill is three-point shooting. Bischoff is an elite shooter who had the best game of his young career to power the Jags to a huge win. The 5-foot-10 game isn't the greatest athlete you'll ever see and he doesn't have amazing size, however, he excels in his role and provides a major winning impact. Bischoff was dialed in from the moment he stepped on the floor, hitting four catch and shoot threes in the first half where he showed off his quick trigger release and text book shooting mechanics. The freshman buried a deep triple from 28 feet out to end the first half, showing no hesitation in a shot that gave Bradley a big lead. Bischoff competes on the defensive end of the floor where he made a handful of plays, showing off great instincts and toughness. The young guard has a bright future in this program and will form the second piece of a deadly one-two punch in the backcourt for Bradley for years to come. In every single era of modern Bradley basketball, they've always had a duo. First it was Norris-Speelman, then it was Allocco-Mayfield, now it is Norris-Mirgon and it's about to be Norris-Bischoff. Don't sleep on this duo. They have the 'it' factor.
Ajay Sheldon (6'1 PG / Dublin Coffman / 2022): What Sheldon is doing in the OCC-Central this year is not normal. While 24 points per game would be impressive in any league, to do it in a conference where the guard talent is as high every single night makes it even better. The junior is playing at an elite level and has taken the best shot of every team he's played, as Sheldon is facing entire defenses with Coffman lacking another creator. Sheldon is what we could call a 'hybrid guard' (hat tip to Rashad Phillips for coining the term), as he is a rare blend of a scorer and initiator that can disrupt an entire game plan when the ball is in his hands. Sheldon can bury shots off the bounce from anywhere on the floor, has elite quickness in space that helps him get past defenders to the rim and is an exceptional athlete that is finishing at the basket better than most players in the area. Outside of his impressive scoring ability, Sheldon is a natural passer that sees the entire floor and has the patience to let plays develop. Coffman has a chance to win any game they play in whenever the ball is in Sheldon's hands, as he can score and pass with the best of them. Coffman has produced two Division I guards in recent years with Dominiq Penn (Washington) and Keaton Turner (Wofford) and we feel Sheldon is the next in line, as he's better than both those guys were at this stage.
Aidan Dring (6'0 WG / Dublin Coffman / 2022): Dring will always hold a special place in my heart as he was the first-ever player to register for the 270 Hoops Intro event prior to his freshman year. It's been fun to watch Dring's game develop, as he's making big strides this year as a junior and is becoming the x-factor for the Rocks. Dring had one of his better showings in the last few years, going for 11 big points and showing a great ability to attack the defense off the bounce. Dring is quick in space, has great ball skills and is a capable three-point shooter that can take a little pressure off Sheldon. The junior is a talented passer that has good vision and is always willing to sacrifice on the defensive end of the floor. We really like what Dring brings to the floor, as he'll be one of those guys that really makes a leap as a senior. Small college programs should identify Dring and keep an eye on him for the next year.