On a night when shots weren’t falling in a physical, defensive battle, Jett Speelman still shot his way into Newark Catholic basketball history.
The 6-foot-7 senior hit a fadeaway jumper with 7:10 left, making him the school’s all-time leading boys basketball scorer. He now has 1,217 points, surpassing Bob Franks — who had 1,216 from 1953-55 — as the Green Wave celebrated an outright Mid-State League-Ohio Division title with a 60-39 win against rival Licking Valley.
A standing-room only crowd at NC saw the Green Wave (19-3, 13-1) limit the Panthers to just 20 percent shooting from the floor, including an 11-minute stretch without a field goal. NC hit only 39 percent, but it was more than enough as the much-taller Green Wave held a 41-26 rebounding edge.
“Offense comes and goes, and the ball rattles around the rim, but our defense is always there,” said Speelman, who left after his shot and finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. “(Winning the title outright) definitely means a lot. We wanted to do it last year, but (Valley) beat us at their place on senior night. It’s a rivalry, and we knew they would play us tough.”
“We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half, but the effort was there on defense,” NC coach Eric Sheck said. “We forced them to take some tough shots, and we rebounded the ball real well.”
The Green Wave actually clinched the title Friday when Bexley upset Columbus Academy, but that didn’t lessen the intensity in the stands or on the floor. The scrappy Panthers (4-18, 3-11), who had won three of their past four games, were hoping to spoil senior night and trailed just 10-7 after the first quarter.
But they failed to make a second-quarter field goal, going 0-for-11, as NC took a 24-11 halftime lead.
“We put ourselves in position the first half and did a lot of good things,” Valley coach Todd Torbert said. “Our defense held them to the pace we wanted to play. They’re a very talented team. But we just could not make shots. We got some good looks, and they were shots that we normally hit.”
Brandon Pickenpaugh’s 3-pointer from the left corner at 5:12 of the third ended the 11-minute field-goal drought. But by that time, the Green Wave led 32-14. Speelman was held without a field goal and to just four first-half points, but he had eight in the third to put himself in record-breaking position. NC had five steals in the quarter and took a commanding 47-21 lead into the fourth.
“I tried not think about it (the record), but I had a lot of jitters the first half,” Speelman said. “I relaxed a lot more in the second half.”
Classmates David Meurer and Mitch Cox added 10 and eight points, respectively, with Cox contributing four assists and three steals. Conor Keck had seven points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
With eight seniors to honor, Sheck said Meurer and Cox came to him and offered to let the other seniors start the game. So Zach and Nate Noth, Connor Ceneviva and Oliver Evans started with Speelman.
“We have eight great seniors, and everyone gives everything they have in practice,” Sheck said. “They’ve made our team and our program better.”
Scott Morris scored 17 points and Chris Flanagan had three steals for Valley.
“We’re playing our best ball at the end of the season, and that’s a credit to these kids, especially our seniors,” Torbert said. “They haven’t quit and they’ve gotten better. That’s all you can ask.”