BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- Sometimes your prayers are answered and sometimes they aren't. On Sarurday night, head coach Michael Bates had his answered when he set up a perfect flare screen play coming out of the final timeout of the game with 3.7 seconds left.
Senior guard Tre Baumgardner showed he had ice water running through his veins, as he set a nice pick and flared to the left wing in time to hit a 23-foot game-winning bomb to lead Africentric (21-6) to the OHSAA Division III Final Four next week in Columbus.
The win broke a string of three straight losses in regional final games for the battle-tested Nubians. They will now face fellow Central District foe, and top-seeded Harvest Prep in the state semifinals.
Baumgardner had been bumped and pounded on all night, but finished with a game-high 20 points after hitting his game winning trey.
Actually, every player on the floor was beaten up through the game as the referees chose to let both teams bang and scrap. Only nine fouls were called in the entire game on Archbold (22-4) and only six were called on Africentric. Only two of them came in the final half agsinst the Nubians.
The X-factor for Africentric was the play of talented junior forward Dorian Holloway, who contributed 16 points and was simply the best player in the paint all night. His ability to gather and finish, and make amazingly strong drives to the rim in traffic kept the Nubians alive against the fantastic team defense of the Blue Streaks.
Senior center Jah Bennett of the Nubians struggled to score all night in the paint against the tough play of Archbold 6-foot-5 center Rigo Ramos who shot the ball well and battled in the paint. Bennett would score a mere two points, but contributed seven rebounds and five blocks in the winning effort. Ramos simply played fantastic hitting three of four treys, grabbing seven boards and blocking three shots on the way to an 11-point outing.
Star forward Bryce Williams of Archbold who had scored over 1,000 points in his career, fought hard and drove bravely into traffic all night en route to a game-high 13 points for the Blue Streaks.
Both teams put on amazing displays of strong ball handling against the torrid defense both faced, with Archbold committing only nine turnovers in the game to only five turnovers for the Nubians.
The rebound and assist battle was a dead heat with both teams snagging 27 caroms and dishing nine dimes as well.
Defensively both teams excelled. Archbold was held to 33 percent shooting and the Nubians to 37.8. The teams only combined for 15 free throw attempts in the game. Both teams blocked five shots each, but the Nubians led in steals with a mere four to one advantage.
Archbold jumped to a solid 14-9 advantage after eight minutes, and maintained the lead 24-20 at the half. Holloway scored 11 to lead all scorers at the half on 5-of-6 shooting, while Ramos scored eight points on 3-of-3 shooting from the floor, while holding Bennet scoreless. Baumgardner who scored seven points for Africentric, was held to 3 of 10 shooting.
Africentric finally got the game tied at 33 all after three quarters when Baumgardner got on track knocking down two straight treys and converting another three-point play. Williams kept track with his senior competitor scoring seven of nine Blue Streak points in the quarter.
The fourth quarter could have went either way in the end. A Ramos trey jumped the Archbold lead to 36-33, but the Nubians answered on a 6-0 run led by Holloway who scored 3 points. Kaiden Bedsole's trey for Archbold would tie the game at 39.
At that point, Coach Bates would put the ball in the deep freeze deciding to go for the final shot with 2:56 left on the clock.
"I could here my dad in my head saying, hold the ball!" said Bates who had decided to hold the ball for a last shot. "I didn't want to give a team that shot the ball like Archbold a chance to knock down a final shot."
A near turnover at the forty-second mark caused Bates to call timeout with 38 seconds left. A sloppy inbounds pass after the timeout stunned Nubian fans giving the ball back to Archbold with 37 seconds left and made the decision by Bates look like it had backfired.
The Blue Streaks worked the ball around and tried to get it inside in the closing seconds, but a clutch steal by Bennet inside ten seconds got the ball back for Africentric. The Nubians got the ball to halfcourt and called time with 2.7 seconds remsining, but the referees added one second to the clock after conferring with the clock official, putting 3.7 seconds on the clock for the final possession.
At that point, Bates drew up his perfect flare screen that they had used earlier in the season with success against Upper Arlington, despite ending up losing that game in overtime.
Baumgardner hit the shot of his life as the buzzer expired, giving his team the 42-39 victory and was mobbed by his entire team and coaches alike.
Baumgardner ended with 20 points and a game-high seven rebounds. Holloway added six boards to his 16 points.
Africentric outscored Archbold 22 to 12 in the paint and led in fast break points 6-0. The game featured five ties and four lead changes. With the final quarter being decided by the Nubians outscoring the Blue Streak 9-6.
Both head coaches seemed mentally exhausted after the game and showred their opposing coach in praise.
"That was one good team," said legendary Archbold Coach Doug Krauss. The veteran coach with 34 years of experience added, "That was the most athletic team we have faced all year."
"Coach Krauss is such a great coach and deservedly a legend up here," said Bates after the game. "He is the type of coach that I prefer to study and learn from. They tend to stereotype that city league teams are not disciplined. But I like to model our teams after the great teams led by coaches like Coach Krauss."
Neither coach disappointed, as they waged a war for the ages that could be compared to a battle between two chess masters.