COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It was already going to be an uphill battle for the struggling Scots against the league favorite Africentric Nubians. When it was revealed Walnut Ridge star junior guard Dom Aekins, whose averaging over 30 points per game, would be sidelined with a knee injury, the task of an upset seemed even more improbable.
The Nubians made sure there was no sliver of a doubt and easily dispatched the Scots in an 87-44 rout, as Africentric received scoring efforts from 13 different players.
It was actually the Scots that came out the gates with what looked like something to prove and played at a higher speed than the Nubians. But that energy turned into a barrage of turnovers that would plague the Scots all evening as Africentric strolled out to an 18-11 lead after the first.
After the initial eight minutes, Walnut Ridge was simply outmatched. The Nubians collected a turnover on what seemed like every other possession and were able to score mostly easy baskets as they quickly opened up a double-digit lead that would only balloon. The Nubians did their most damage in the fourth period, even with the starters mostly sitting, and outscored the Scots 29-9 to finish with an 87-44 victory.
There were a significant amount of mismatches, most notably senior wing and Xavier commit Dailyn Swain, who preferred the role of facilitator and notched 11 total assists. His 13 points all came easily around the bucket.
Senior Preston Steele led all scorers with 16 points and entertained fans with three dunks in the third quarter. Junior guard Cortez Freeman made his return from a minor injury and followed with 15 points, which included two triples that were a good foot behind the arc.
Juniors Laron Fuller and Mekhi Johnson added eight points each, while nearly every other Nubian recorded a point in the stat book.
Walnut Ridge was led by seniors Lamariyon Smith and Zanis Tucker, who scored 11 and eight points respectively and combined for five assists. Senior Xhavier Hunter led all players with seven rebounds.
While the win was more than expected for the Nubians, it carried some extra significance as league rival and current division runner-up South was upset by Marion-Franklin. Africentric now holds a two-game lead in the South division, which all but guarantees a return to the City League championship.
The Nubians (13-3, 10-0) will have a much stiffer test on Saturday, as they face defending Division I state champion Pickerington Central for the finale of the Jared Sullinger Play-By-Play Classic at Pickerington Central.
Walnut Ridge (6-10, 5-5) is apart of that challenge as well, as they face Emmanuel Christian out of Toledo, a team that features top-rated sophomore recruit Jerry Easter II. Aekins is reportedly questionable to play.
For a further recap of the Nubians blowout win, check out the 5 Keys To The Game:
1. Aekins' Absence: As soon it was clear the star point guard was not dressed to play, the anticipation of what could have been a competitive match was immediately swept away. Yes, the Nubians previously beat Ridge with Aekins by 25 earlier in the season, but the junior has been one of the area's best scorers and is the type of player that can rise to the challenge. Even when the score was relatively close in the first quarter, it was clear that the Scots would have trouble keeping up with one of the area's best teams.
2. Sensational Swain Dimes: There are certain games where the four star guard can really do whatever he wants and on Friday, he chose to show off his all-star vision. The 6'6 wing zipped passes through traffic and consistently found an open man. Swain could have had the ability to name his point total, but instead chose to give the fans their money's worth by feeding his teammates who did a good job of converting their finishes. Talent like Swain doesn't come by often, so it's a treat to watch him any given night.
3. More Fun When All Get Some: Coach Michael Bates wisely sat his starters for most of the fourth quarter and gave some inexperienced players an opportunity for varsity minutes. In result, Africentric hardly experienced a drop-off as players like Leonard Gore and Chris Cooper-Patton had some nice moments, along with just about every other Nubian. The best part? The boisterous support from the Africentric starters who enthusiastically cheered on the winning plays made by their teammates.
4. Recognition for Ridge: The final score wasn't pretty, but don't mistake the Scots for a lack of effort. The Scots weren't intimated and played hard, led by example from seniors like Smith, Tucker and Asion Francis. Obviously having Aekins back will be a huge boost, but there are moments the Scots show that they can be better than their record shows. After Saturday, the Scots have four winnable games that can end their season on a high note and build a little momentum before the district tournament.
5. The Main Event: By now, we can turn our attention towards the highlight game of the weekend; the Nubians against Pickerington Central on Saturday. Unlike against Ridge, Africentric will play the role of a big underdog as they take on our area's top ranked team. The Nubians should have a sour taste in their mouth from last season's match against the Tigers, in which they suffered a deflating 86-54 loss. Along with the addition of Freeman, Africentric should come out much more prepared this go around and perhaps give the Tigers a fierce test.
MVP: Dailyn Swain (Africentric senior wing with 13 points, 11 assists, 3 steals, 3 rebounds)
Top Scorer: Preston Steele (16 points)
Hustle Player of the Game: Cortez Freeman (Africentric junior guard with four steals on top of his 15 points)