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5 Keys: Westerville South holds off Harvest Prep

By Greg Glasser, 12/20/22, 11:15PM EST


Warriors nearly erase a 13 point deficit in the fourth, but Wildcats prevail 65-62

WESTERVILLE, Ohio --  Since 2016, only three teams from Central Ohio can take claim to a state championship and on Tuesday, two of them played against each other for the first time ever.  Division I Westerville South hosted Division III Harvest Prep, an unusual pairing between two of the area's most consistent programs, that ended with the Wildcats holding off the Warriors, 65-62.

After three quarters, Prep trailed 53-40 and entered the fourth quarter on the brink of staying competitive as momentum headed in South's favor. Yet the Warriors nearly staged a 13-point comeback, led by three straight possessions that earned three points each trip, and brought the game to one possession in the final minute. South sophomore guard Kruz McClure sealed the victory with two made free throws to make a 65-60 lead before Prep scored a nonconsequential basket at the buzzer.

The Cats had all but two points scored by their starting five, led by McClure who had 18 points, 11 of which came in the second half.  Senior Jadi Cunningham Jr. finished with 14 points, which included two clutch free throws in the final minute, along with a team high four assists.

Senior JuJuan Ray had an excellent game on both ends, as he did a good job of defending out on the wing and getting to loose balls as he recorded five steals and added 11 points. Fellow senior Jalen Wheeler had 12 points while sophomore Tyler Kielmeyer did a nice job in the post towards an eight point, four rebound effort. 

The Warriors had seven players score, with three in double figures. Senior Nyelle Shaheed scored 17 of his game high 22 points in the second half, as his physicality and play around the rim became tough for the Wildcats to contain. It was Shaheed and sophomore Brandon Roddy that were the two main engines that steered the Warriors fourth quarter comeback. After Roddy picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, the lead guard responded well and was a defensive menace towards the South ball-handlers which led to seven steals on top of his 11 points and three assists. 

Prep senior Zyaun Hutson delivered a sound performance and did a good job of keeping the Warriors even keeled throughout the game. He finished with 10 points, a game high five assists and three steals. 

While both teams will have their separate journeys for the rest of the season and in their respective playoff divisions, Tuesday night's inaugural duel was a solid test for each squad moving forward. Although both South and Prep had their share of turnovers and inconsistent shooting, it was a competitive, hard fought game that featured quality talent on both rosters. 

Westerville South (5-2) plays once more before the holiday weekend as they host a non-conference opponent in Jonathan Alder on Thursday.

Harvest Prep (6-2) will have another challenging higher division opponent when they face Chaminade Julienne, a team led by Michigan commit George Washington III, on December 27.

For more on Tuesday's outcome, here are the Five Keys To The Game:

1. South's Trio of Guards: It was hard to not notice the difference made by South's three starting guards; Cunningham Jr., McClure and Wheeler. The three combined for 44 points and each offered a bit of a different skillset. Cunningham Jr. and McClure in particular were difficult to contain and seemed to have a strong chemistry as they were often the beneficiary of each other's combined six assists. Wheeler, a talented receiver on the gridiron, was a hard-nosed finisher and on-ball defender. While neither shot particularly well from the outside, all three guards were aggressive playmakers throughout the game.

2. Good Prep for Prep: It's more often you see Harvest Prep win a game by 30 points than actually lose. That's due to the Warriors dominating talent over their MSL-Cardinal foes, but coach David Dennis loaded the front end of his team's schedule with established and competitive programs like South. Even in defeat, Prep became a better team after Tuesday's game. The Warriors put forth a never quit type attitude, showed they have quality athletes and the right approach on the defensive end.

3. Too Many Turnovers: This goes for both teams, as taking care of the ball was an issue at various stages of the game. For South, turnovers prevented them from maintaining their double-digit lead and for Prep, perhaps the game would have been closer leading up to the fourth had they not had possession problems of their own. The Wildcats guards are talented and experienced, but should hope to improve in this area moving forward. Prep at times seemed to be a little out of control, but that can be expected when playing up two divisions.

4. Sophomore Studs: Both teams received excellent performances from their sophomore guards; South's McClure and Prep's Roddy. One could argue each second-year player was his team's best performer, second best at worst. It took McClure a quarter to get into a groove, but he stayed aggressive and became hard to contain off the dribble. The same could be said for Roddy, who received two fouls in the first few minutes, yet re-entered the game and was an instant difference maker, particularly on the defensive end. These are two prospects that scouts will definitely want to keep an eye on. We'll highlight them further in the upcoming Prospect Scouting Report. A special mention also to South sophomore Tyler Kielmeyer, a 6'6 forward, who had a handful of bright moments around the rim.

5. Can't Count Out the Cats: No reasonable fan had the expectations the Cats would mimic the success of last year's undefeated regular season team, especially with the departure of Drey Carter, a freshman at Wright State. But coach Ed Calo returned a solid chunk of his district championship team, with players like Cunningham Jr., McClure and Ray who have the potential to make various all-district teams. I would expect as the season progresses, the Cats will improve their outside shooting and minimize their turnovers all while they continue their solid defensive approach. Although they may have occasional stumble moments, I'd count on the Cats to be a top 10 team and a tough out in the district tournament.

MVP: Jadi Cunningham Jr. (Westerville South senior with 14 pts, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, block)

Top Scorer: Nyelle Shaheed (Harvest Prep senior with 22 points)

Hustle Player of the Game: JuJuan Ray (Westerville South senior with 11 points, 5 steals, 3 assists, 3 rebounds)

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