WESTERVILLE, Ohio -- With the prior two contests between Westerville Central and Gahanna decided by a combined two points with each team able to claim victory, Saturday's regional final was rightfully anticipated to be another closely decided game.
A birth to the state tournament on the line, the two top-seeded teams once again battled in an outcome decided by one point. Yet neither of those prior contests, or any game this season for that matter, came close to the final moments in Westerville Central's 45-44 win.
With a tied score and 10 seconds left on the clock, Gahanna inbounded for the final shot. Junior star lead guard Sean Jones bled the clock to its final seconds before he pulled up for a flawless mid-range jumper and gave the Lions a two-point lead and what appeared to be the final score of the game.
Yet 1.9 seconds remained, enough time for Westerville Central to inbound to senior Tasos Cook who took two dribbles, reached half court and launched a perfectly timed floater that was nothing but net just as the horn sounded.
The unforgettable shot capped off an overall memorable performance from Cook, the district player of the year. The unsigned senior led all scorers with 23 points and was a constant aggressive force against the Lions.
It was Cook's 13-point effort in the first half that helped give Westerville Central a five-point lead into halftime in what was a relatively even-played first half.
Gahanna would respond, led behind the excellent play of Jones and fellow junior Javan Simmons as they combined for 11 third-quarter points to cut the Warhawks lead to one as they entered the final period.
Within the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, Gahanna would eventually take the lead. Just under two minutes to play, Simmons connected on two made free throws and extended the Lions lead to 42-39.
On the following Westerville Central possession, Warhawks senior MJ Davis made his third triple of the day to tie the game before the final minute.
The final two shots were made in the last 10 seconds, first from Jones and then the game-winner from Cook.
While Cook will be remembered as the star of the day, he received fantastic support from his fellow seniors.
Davis finished with 10 points and marked back-to-back games that he hit on three made three-point attempts.
Wing guard Quincy Clark, who attended Gahanna his freshman season, had seven points and was in good control. Clark took care of the ball along with his three assists and delivered a stellar defensive effort.
The heart-breaking loss for Gahanna will be tough for the Lions to accept after they put forth a championship-worthy performance.
Jones played a spectacular game and led the Lions with 15 points and three assists. The highly sought-after 2022 prospect was fully locked in on both ends and his aggressive play was a main factor in Gahanna's second half comeback. Jones' midrange pull-up jumper was outstanding all day and was rightfully utilized in what appeared to be the game winner before Cook stole the moment.
Simmons was another main contributing factor towards the Lions second-half surge, as he scored 10 of his 12 total points in the final two periods and finished with a game-high seven rebounds.
Senior and Ashland commit Maceo Williams ended his stellar Lions career with eight points and three rebounds.
Despite the loss of Williams and senior Jarius Jones, who missed the playoffs with a torn ACL, the Lions should be eager for next season as they return a significant amount of talent. Jones and Simmons are considered two of the area's top 2022 prospects, while junior Eljae Deas made significant improvement over the season and will be considered a key player for the Lions.
For Westerville Central, they've now won two of their last three games on a buzzer-beating three. A team that starts four seniors who play with a strong trust and confidence in one another, the Warhawks are displaying the type of magic in March that gives Central fans a sense of destiny.
Head Coach Kevin Martin will lead the Warhawks to their first-ever final four appearance that begins on March 20 as Westerville Central plays Cleveland St. Ignatius at 8pm at University of Dayton arena.