Cumberland scores 35 points, including final 10 of third to start big Hurricane run.
FAIRBORN — Wilmington lost three consecutive district final games before Saturday. The last two finals were heartbreakers: a 54-53 loss to Middletown on a bank-shot three at the buzzer two years ago, followed by a three-point defeat by Moeller last season.
The Hurricane jumped out to an 11-point lead in a Div. I district final against GMC champ Mason on Saturday at the Nutter Center. But the Comets battled back and cut Wilmington’s lead to one point midway through the third.
Wilmington senior Jarron Cumberland thought about those tournament losses before Saturday’s game. Cumberland, a Cincinnati recruit, didn’t want his team to lose another district final on Saturday. He took over in the final 11 minutes to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Cumberland scored the final 10 points in the third quarter to spark a 19-0 run that turned a close game into an eventual 63-38 Wilmington win.
“I thought about that Moeller game and that Middletown game,” Cumberland said. “We came up short. It’s my senior year and Cameron (Stewart) and Alex Miller’s senior year, and I don’t want to come up short (this year).”
Wilmington outscored Mason 35-11 in the game’s final 11 minutes. As much as improved shooting was key to the run, defense played a big part as well.
Mason scored the last four points of the second quarter and started the third on an 11-6 run. But the Comets struggled on offense the rest of the game. They settled for contested shots and struggled to get offensive rebounds as Wilmington dominated inside.
Stewart and Miller helped lead Wilmington’s defensive effort on Saturday. Both finished with six rebounds and stayed close to their opponents. Stewart, a 5-9 guard, was particularly effective guarding opponents in the paint.
“We just got tougher at the end,” Stewart said. “We just had to get stops, that’s all we had to do. There really wasn’t any big adjustments; we had to play harder and tougher.”
Mason cut Wilmington’s lead to 28-27 with about three minutes left in the third. That’s when Cumberland took the game over. He scored two back-to-back three’s, then added a shot off the glass with a minute left. After getting a rebound off a missed shot, Cumberland drove the length of the floor and scored a layup at the buzzer. The 10 points from Cumberland to end the quarter gave Wilmington a 38-27 lead.
“I just had to get started,” Cumberland said. “My team really needed me to get started and score the ball, and I started scoring more.”
Wilmington put the game away in the first few minutes of the fourth. Stewart opened the fourth with a three, then Miller followed with a basket inside. Wilmington stretched the run to 19-0 before Mason finally broke its scoreless streak with 4:41 left in the fourth on a pair of free throws.
Cumberland finished with 35 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Stewart scored 16 points and had four assists.
Head coach Mike Noszka said Wilmington was more prepared for the tournament this year than recent seasons. Out of the seven other Division I teams playing in district games on Saturday, Wilmington had scrimmaged or played against six.
“The only (district) team we didn’t play against was Mason,” Noszka said. “We’re battled tested… look at the teams we’ve played. We’ve played teams that have different styles of play. The kids feel comfortable. It helped us against Mason because they’re structured and very disciplined in what they do.”
Mason was the No. 1 seed in the Cincinnati sectional and hadn’t lost since a 51-49 defeat by Dublin Jerome in a season opener. The Comets had scored at least 57 points in their previous 10 games.
Wilmington made 20-of-40 shot attempts from the field in the game and outrebounded Mason 28-19. The Comets shot 12-of-33, including 3-of-14 from three-point range. Kyle Lamotte and Ben Schutte led Mason with 10 points each.
Wilmington’s defense held Mason down in the first quarter. The Comets struggled to gets shots off, and Wilmington dominated the boards. The Hurricane led 22-12 with about 2:30 left in the fourth, but Mason scored the last four points of the second to cut the lead to six at halftime.
Mason finishes with a 21-2 record. The Comets will lose 10 seniors, including three starters.
The Hurricane advances to the Div. I regional semifinals next Wednesday at Xavier’s Cintas Center. Wilmington will play either Springfield or Moeller. The Wildcats and the Crusaders play in a district final game at 9 p.m. tonight.
Wilmington played both Springfield and Moeller in regular season. Moeller won 40-31 on Jan. 23, while Wilmington beat Springfield by 13 points on Feb. 13.
“I think all these teams left playing are great programs, they have great players, and they are prepared,” Noszka said. “That’s what’s going to happen on Wednesday night.”