COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With the district tournament set to tip off on Tuesday, DeSales hosted Linden-McKinley for a final regular season game that served as an intense final tune-up for the playoffs.
It also served as a brilliant performance from Stallions senior star Des Watson, who capped off an incredible regular season with a buzzer-beating three just across half court, to give himself 33 points and DeSales a 45-42 victory.
With the game tied at 42, Linden-McKinley secured possession and called a timeout with six seconds to play for the final shot.
In a battle against each other all game, Panthers senior Chance Groce attempted to penetrate on Watson, who then poked the ball loose.
Watson gained possession, took two dribbles to get inside half court and launched a perfectly-timed three from the volleyball line and ended with a swoosh at the horn for the victory.
It was an unforgettable moment that came after an eventful second half.
Linden-McKinley let a tied halftime score slip to a seven-point deficit as they entered the fourth quarter. In the final two minutes, Panthers junior LB Towns forced back-to-back turnovers which then led to a made corner-three from senior Shamarion Rogers which cut DeSales' lead to two points.
After another DeSales turnover, an inside-the-paint floater from Panthers junior Lason Walker tied the game at 42.
On DeSales’ next possession, Watson went left-side baseline, but tight defense from Groce forced him out of bounds to give Linden-McKinley what seemed to be the final possession.
That’s when Watson forced a turnover of his own and then made a shot he’ll never forget.
Already the clear focal point of the offense, the Stallions needed Watson to carry even more of the scoring burden as fellow starters senior Austin Mann and junior Atticus Schuler were still sidelined from minor injuries.
Although Watson carried much of the scoring production, his teammates stepped up in other areas. Senior Obed Achirem was a force on the boards. He had a team-high 10 rebounds and also connected with two backdoor assists that led to Watson slam dunks in the fourth quarter.
With Schuler out, junior Cruz Sanchez saw more minutes and added key offensive put-backs on his four points along with four rebounds.
Although Michael Walker didn’t score, the freshman point guard got the start and made an impact defensively. Walker was responsible for three drawn offensive fouls, had two steals and limited Towns to only two points.
For Linden-McKinley, Towns was a leader defensively, with his game-high six steals along with three assists.
All but four of the Panthers points came from the trio of Rogers (14 points), Groce (12) and Walker (12). Rogers proved difficult to contain on the glass, as he led all players with 12 rebounds.
Despite the loss, Linden-McKinley showed they are still a tough out come tournament time. The Panthers are athletic, play hard on defense, attack the glass and have multiple years of experience in their starting line-up. They’ll need to connect on more outside shots to make a serious run, but the Panthers have the talent to contend in their district.
Their first opponent will be in the sectional finals on Friday. They will play the winner of Bexley and Watterson.
With talents like Watson on hand, DeSales has the ability to compete with almost any and all opponents. Fortunately for the Stallions, they expect both Mann and Schuler to return at some point, which should give them a better chance to repeat for a district championship.
The repeat run for the Stallions will start on Friday’s sectional final as they play the winner of Horizon Science and Centennial.
Des Watson (6’5 WG/ DeSales / 2021): Games like Saturday are when the truly elite players separate themselves from the rest of the greats. The Davidson commit has the ability to take over at any given moment, no matter how much attention the defense throws at him. On Saturday, Watson’s 33 points came from all levels which included mid-range jumpers, backdoor dunks and three triples, none better than the game-winner. There are very few players in the Division II field that can hang on Watson’s level. He can’t do it alone, but Watson has the ability to will the Stallions to victory against almost anyone in the playoffs.
Obed Achirem (6’1 WG/ DeSales / 2021): For any team that makes a run in March, it requires each player to excel in their given role. For Obed Achirem, the senior plays a crucial role as he often is the Stallions best rebounder and defensive workhorse. On Saturday, Achirem put that excellent effort on display as he led his team with 10 rebounds, many coming from the offensive glass. Although just over six feet tall, Achirem is one of the most physical rebounders in the area. Built like a college running back, Achirem is stronger than most opponents and uses that to his advantage. While not a huge scoring threat, Achirem can disrupt a game and make winning plays. That type of effort will be needed for a Stallions tournament run.
Shamarion Rogers (6’4 WF/ Linden-McKinley / 2021): Arguably the most athletic player on the Panthers roster, Rogers put that exceptional athleticism on display Saturday as he led his team with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Rogers earns every rebound, showcasing an impressive vertical as he often out-jumps everyone else. He saved his best performance for the second half, as he scored seven of his points in the fourth including a corner three to cut DeSales lead to one possession. Rogers should have an athletic advantage over most of his opponents in the tournament and will be a crucial aspect of any run Linden-McKinley hopes to make.
Chance Groce (6’6 WF / Linden-McKinley / 2021): No player had a more difficult role than Groce, as he spent most of Saturday paired with Watson. Despite the high point total, Groce made Watson earn every point. In often cases, it was great defense that just simply met better offense. Yet it was Groce that forced a turnover in the final minute to give the Panthers a chance at a final possession. The four-year varsity player is Linden-McKinley’s most natural scorer, as he had 12 points, including two made triples. When dialed in for all four quarters, Groce shows why he’s considered an attractive prospect for certain programs at the next level.