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Dream Denied: St. Vincent-St. Mary overwhelms DeSales in Division II state championship

By Greg Glasser, 03/21/21, 7:45PM EDT

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Stallions relinquish halftime lead, outscored by 27 points in second half in defeat

DAYTON, Ohio -- They say anything can happen in March.

After 16 minutes of play in the Division II state championship,  undoubtedly the role of the underdog, DeSales held a five-point lead into halftime against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

Excluding all of their missed seven three-point attempts, the Stallions played a near-perfect half as Des Watson led with 14 points, but was accompanied by composed and efficient shot-making from his teammates, as all starters got on the scoreboard.

Despite senior and Ohio State commit Malaki Branham's 13 points, the Fighting Irish looked somewhat lifeless as they trailed 33-28 into halftime.

Apparently ten minutes of a halftime break was all the Irish needed to be fully resurrected.

A completely different St. Vincent-St. Mary team emerged, strapped with a lethal full-court press that saw DeSales' lead evaporate in a matter of minutes.  

Led by Branham, the Irish went on a 17-1 run in just over three minutes, with nearly all of the points scored in transition.

The composure and control of pace that DeSales had in the first half was all but negated as the Stallions had trouble with ball-handling which led to seven third quarter turnovers.

The Fighting Irish's speed and aggression showcased why many believed that St. Vincent-St. Mary is the best team in Ohio, regardless of division.

They certainly had one of the state's best players on the floor Sunday, as Branham exploded with 37 points on 15-of-21 shooting.  Many of his attempts were at the rim, as DeSales had virtually no answer for the expected Mr. Ohio-winner while the six-foot-five guard showed every reason why he's considered a top 50 recruit in the nation. 

Branham also took primary responsibility in defending Watson, who had 23 points,  but was limited on 8-of-24 shooting,  challenged by Branham's physicality. 

The combination of Branham and the enhanced second-half play of his teammates led the Irish on dominating 44-17 rout towards a 72-50 final victory as St. Vincent-St. Mary locked up their ninth state championship and first since 2018.

Branham scored the overwhelming amount of the Irish's points, but it was a mostly balanced contribution from his teammates, as St. Vincent-St. Mary had a team total 19 assists.

Junior Sencire Harris led all passers with five assists, while fellow junior Ramar Pryor had 11 points.

Watson led DeSales with 23 points and caps a historic career in which the Davidson commit became the program's all-time leading scorer.

Senior Austin Mann ended his career with 10 points and showed that even at five-foot-five, he was not to be intimated by a large and physical Irish backcourt. 

Neither was senior Obed Achirem, who at just six-foot-two, still made an impact on the glass with his game-high 11 rebounds.

The Stallions will undoubtedly have a hard time replacing the senior trio, Watson especially, but saw encouraging play Sunday from underclassmen such as juniors Atticus SchulerCruz Sanchez and freshman Michael Walker.

Those three will have the difficult task to repeat this year's run, but have the ability to once again compete in the CCL and Division II district next season.

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