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A Dream Deferred: Linden's historic run halted in regional semifinals

By Mark Francis Jr., 03/11/22, 9:30AM EST


A big opening quarter and 9-0 game-ending run led Alter over Linden

VANDALIA, Ohio - - The game never quite went Linden’s way on Thursday evening, it started with a technical foul due to a jersey violation and ended with free throws to ice it. Archbishop Alter answered each Linden-McKinley run and used 20 points from senior Jacob Conner and 16 from Anthony Ruffolo to escape with a 60-53 win over the district champion Panthers. 

The Panthers started down 0-2 because of the aforementioned technical foul to start the game, Alter senior Jacob Connor scored the first two of his 12 first half points to get his team on the board. The lead gave way to an 8-0 for the Knights early in the game as three different players put points on the board to start the game. The gritty point guard for Linden answered back as LB Town got a steal, bucket and hit the free throw for good measure to cut the lead to 8-3 as time was ticking away in the first quarter. 

Senior scoring machine LA Walker began to heat up, scoring 8 of his team high 25 in the opening quarter. When Linden cut the Alter lead to 17-9, the Knights answered back as they did all night with a 8-2 run to close the quarter and take a 25-11 lead into the second quarter. 

Jacob Conner scored 10 in the opening frame but was held to only two points in the second while the Panthers tried to dig out of the 14-point hold they dug for themselves. LA Walker got the scoring started for his team, knocking down two from the charity stripe before another Linden (the best charge taking team in the City League) took a charge and Walker scored again before Walker’s next basket and an Alter timeout as the lead was cut to eight.

After the timeout ended, the Knights got right back to it, Conner slammed one home for his only bucket of the quarter and junior AJ Leen followed it up with a lay-up of his own. 

The fight would not leave the Panthers, as Walker responded with his first triple of the contest and cut the deficit to single-digits for the first time since early in the first quarter. Sophomore Chris Towns backed him up with a three of his own and cut into the lead even more, getting his team down 29-23. Another three from Walker and an absolutely filthy lay-up by LB Towns sent the Panthers into the break trailing 33-28. 

Coming out of intermission, the two teams played their slowest offensive quarter, both teams scoring nine points each. Linden-McKinley senior Malakhi Armistead banged the first of his two threes to get the Panthers to within three points, 34-31, before another answer from the Knights.

The combo of Gavin Geisel and Anthony Ruffolo scored eight straight for Alter and expanded the lead to 42-31 in seemingly the blink of an eye. But as we have seen all season long, never count out the Panthers, because they punched back thanks to LA Walker’s and-1 and LB Towns' three with time running down in the third to head into the final frame down 42-37.

Opening the final quarter was Ruffolo burying a three from deep to push the lead back up to eight, but of of course the over tough LB Towns came right back with a bucket plus the foul and Walker followed up with a three to get the Panthers within two points early in the fourth before the Knights burned another timeout.

Another answer from Alter occurred after the timeout, as Conner added another bucket to his team-high. Two members of the Towns family combined to come up with a huge shift as Philip got a steal and passed it ahead to LB for a fast break lay-up before another answer from Ruffolo, who was sensational all evening long. 

Later in the quarter, Walker picked up his fifth foul as he went for a loose ball on Conner, taking him out the game. As the quarter waned on, and the scoring went back and forth, it was sophomore Philip Towns that gave the Panthers their first lead of the game as he drained a deep three and Linden-McKinley took a 50-49 lead.

That first did not last long because sophomore Gavin Leen stepped up to the free throw line and made them both to go back up by a point. Armistead hit his second triple to get the Panthers up by two, 53-51, as the crowd blew the roof off Butler High School. 

But, as was the case all evening long, the Knights responded, and after tying the game with two free throws, Jacob Conner and Gavin Geisel scored baskets to basically end it. The dream season for Linden-McKinley ended by a score of 60-53. 

LA Walker’s 25 led all scorers while LB Towns added 13 to the equation for the Panthers. The Knights were led by Conners 20 and Ruffolo’s 16. Alter will advance to the regional finals to take on one of Ohio's best all time scorers in Paul McMillian and Cincinnati Woodward while Linden-McKinley will look back on a phenomenal season that ended in their first trip to the regional tournament in 17 years.

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