GAHANNA, Ohio -- The first game of the season is hardly the most efficient and crisp, yet Gahanna was able to overcome a slow start and beat Westerville North 53-43 thanks in large part to a tenacious defensive effort and overall mismatches.
Initially, the Lions perhaps did not expect the Warriors to match their strength and intensity as Westerville North showed little intimidation and did a good job to contest Gahanna in the paint. The Warriors prevented the Lions from getting into a quality half-court offensive rhythm and also benefited from an efficient eight-point scoring effort from senior Caleb Iheukwu as they trailed Gahanna just 23-21 into halftime.
Despite North's effort, Gahanna came out punching in the third in which their defense and overall athleticism began to overwhelm the Warriors. The Lions held North to just five third-quarter points and an abundance of turnovers. With his future college head coach Shaka Smart in attendance, first team all-Ohio point guard Sean Jones took over and scored 10 of his total 14 points in the third, which included seven straight points to end the quarter. Jones also added six assists, four rebounds and three steals in what was an undoubtedly a complete game from the Marquette commit.
Although the Warriors scored some late buckets to cut the score to ten in the fourth, Westerville North never really threatened in the second half. While they did a nice job of forcing Gahanna into their own set of turnovers, the Warriors had too much trouble limiting turnovers of their own along with missed opportunities around the rim, mistakes that can't be made in an effort to defeat arguably the area's best team.
Even in defeat, Warriors coach Shan Trusley should have some positive takeaways from his team that showed grit and competitiveness. Eight players scored and defensively, seven blocks were recorded, an impressive effort against a team as physical and athletic as Gahanna.
Iheukwu led his team with 14 points and four rebounds. The 6-foot-5 lengthy wing connected on two three-pointers and added a couple steals. Iheukwu, along with fellow senior Andrew Scurlock, who had seven points and a team-high three assists, were two Warriors that seemed able to compete at a consistent level against the Lions.
In addition to Jones, Gahanna received strong play from the rest of its senior class. Toledo commit Javan Simmons led all scorers with 15 points and added four rebounds and three steals. Josh Whiteside, who played his first game for Gahanna after he spent the last two seasons at St. Charles, had a game-high ten rebounds along with eight points. Eljae Deas also added eight points in addition to his excellent defense and three steals.
Similar to the effort they faced on Wednesday, Gahanna will continue to have a target on their back and should expect to get opponents best effort throughout the season. Even though the Lions had struggles with turnovers and some inconsistent long-range shooting, Gahanna showed it will take a near mistake-free effort to seriously threaten them.
Meanwhile, Westerville North showed an admirable fight and some intriguing depth. Although they may lack the type of talent that some of the top tier teams posses, the Warriors have a nice senior core of Iheukwu, Scurlock and point guard Noah Lawrence that could lead towards a winning record.
Gahanna has a quick turnaround and plays Cincinnati Taft and top 2023 recruit Rayvon Griffith in the All-Ohio showcase on Saturday. The Warriors are back in action next Tuesday when they host Bishop Watterson.
Sean Jones (5'11 PG / Gahanna / 2022): All eyes will be on Jones every game this season, as the arguable top point guard in Ohio looks to cap his excellent high school career with an unforgettable senior campaign. Wednesday was a good start in that chapter, as Jones looked somehow even stronger, more assertive and in control than before. The four-year varsity guard had a highlight reel of plays as he dished out six assists, which included the directing of two fast break alley-oops and had an emphatic breakaway dunk of his own. Jones is just as impactful on the defensive end as he picked off passes and ball-handlers like a natural defensive back. Excluding a beautiful step-back three pointer, Jones did struggle to shoot from range on Wednesday. But instead of letting the frustration mount, Jones adjusted and became unguardable off the dribble as he scored most of his points getting to the rim. With some added consistency to his jumper, which he has shown he can certainly make, Jones undoubtedly should be in the Mr. Ohio conversation this season.
Javan Simmons (6'7 PF / Gahanna / 2022) Even despite an admirable effort from the Westerville North bigs, Simmons showed he will continue to be a difficult matchup for opposing posts all season long. Simmons was excellent around the rim, with efficient scoring and getting to the foul line where he converted five of six free throws. The senior forward is consistently active on defense, which rewarded him with being in the right place at the right time for his three steals. On a Lions team that prides itself on team defense, Simmons anchors those efforts with his aggressive competitiveness. The 270 Hoops staff is just nervous he'll break a rim at some point this season, as we saw Simmons ferociously finish two dunks on Wednesday.
Eljae Deas (6'0 WG / Gahanna / 2022) All elite teams have an x-factor and for the Lions, that player appears to be Deas. A versatile, athletic wing, Deas offers excellent contributions on both ends. Offensively, Deas has the ability to get to the rim and has an impressive leap that makes it hard to keep him grounded. On a team that may still be looking for consistent three-point shooting, Deas may be that guy as he connected on a triple Wednesday. Deas' long arms contributes towards his excellent defensive play, as he recorded three steals which often times led to fast-break opportunities. The Lions have a lot of talent to go around, but Deas hardly misses a beat, avoids mistakes and will be a major piece towards their title run.
Caleb Iheukwu (6'5 WF / Westerville North / 2022): The most versatile scorer for the Warriors, Iheukwu was able to keep Westerville North competitive in the first half with two triples en route to his team-high 14 points. Although lengthy at 6-foot-5, Iheukwu's thin build doesn't immediately stand out, but yet he's a smooth athlete that has the ability to guard nearly any position. On Wednesday, Iheukwu had a nice post block while he also picked up two steals which included an impressive poke away from a Gahanna guard. We expect Iheukwu to continue to improve and as he is able to add on strength, the senior should be on regional small college program radars as a player that adds quality versatility.
Andrew Scurlock (6'3 WF / Westerville North / 2022): Perhaps no player, from either team, delivered the type of effort that we saw from Scurlock on Wednesday. The senior did a little bit of everything; made a three, led his team in assists, fought for offensive boards and recorded two blocks. Scurlock was often times seen diving on the floor and not afraid to battle with Gahanna's aggressive posts. In addition to his effort, the 6-foot-3 wing looked the part of the best pure athlete for the Warriors, most notably when he nearly slammed an impressive alley-oop attempt that would have led all highlight tapes. Scurlock looked the part of a composed, well-rounded senior that has a fight in him to make the Warriors a competitive team and we look forward to seeing him progress as the season continues.