Wayne not worried about playing Wildcats for a third time this season.
CINCINNATI — Wayne beat Springfield by 20 or more points both times the teams played each other in regular season this year. But the Wildcats have won nine-straight games since last playing Wayne, with wins over the likes of La Salle, Moeller and Trotwood in that stretch.
Is Wayne worried about having to play Springfield for a third time this season tomorrow night with a trip to the state semifinals in Columbus on the line?
“No,” junior guard Rodrick Caldwell said. “We’re going to do what Coach (Travis Trice) tells us all the time. We’re just going to play our game, worry about us and take care of business.”
Wayne and Springfield will play in a Division I regional final on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Xavier’s Cintas Center. The Wildcats beat Moeller by four points in a regional semifinal on Wednesday to advance, while Wayne pulled away from Centerville in the fourth quarter to a 64-49 win.
Springfield is looking to last season for confidence entering Saturday’s game. The Wildcats beat Wayne on last-second shots both times the teams played last year. The losses were Wayne’s only in conference play a year ago.
“We’ve got to look at some film and study the game plan,” Springfield guard Anthony Freeman said. “We’ll have to pay attention in practice. But the way we’re clicking, I feel like no one can stop us at this point.”
Few would have thought Springfield would advance so far in the tournament after a 7-5 start. But the Wildcats have peaked late in the season and won 13 of their last 15 games.
“We had the talent to do it; we just had to put it all together,” Springfield head coach Isiah Carson said. “We’ve got great leadership that’s been carrying us throughout (this run).
It’s no surprise that Wayne (23-4) is in the regional final. Its entire starting lineup has Division I offers.
The Warriors (23-4) have been nearly invincible this season. All of Wayne’s wins against area teams have come by double-digit margins.
But the Warriors have lost twice since Jan. 30: once to Wilmington, and once to Centerville. Wayne has won five-straight games since losing at Centerville in overtime in its final regular season game.
Four players average over 10 points per game for the Warriors. Senior forward Ahmad Wagner and Xeyrius Williams lead the way with 12 and 11 points per game, respectively. Wagner averages eight rebounds per game, and Williams averages 7. Caldwell and D’Mitirk Trice average 10 points per game for Wayne. Trice also averages 5.5 assists per game.
The Warriors average 74.4 points per game.
“They’re really strong and really quick,” Springfield center Darius Harper said of Wayne. “They move the ball around quick. We have to come ready to play and stop them from fast-breaks. We’ve got to get back on defense.”
Wayne has proven to be a hard team to guard. The team plays at least ten different players every game. Wagner and Williams — who are 6-7 and 6-8 — anchor the post. L’Christian Smith, Trey Landers and Guy Victoria add depth off the bench. Demond Parker has stepped up during the tournament and become another scoring threat at guard to compliment Caldwell and Trice.
Springfield jumped out to an 8-0 lead when the teams first played on Jan. 9, but the Warriors stormed back and led by 12 points at halftime. Wayne led almost the entire time in Feb. 10’s game and had built a 14-point lead by the end of the second quarter.
“We’ve got to stop them in transition,” Carson said. “They beat us up in transition both times we played them… We’ve got to stay out of foul trouble. They run so deep; it’s a tough task for anybody. We’ll see where it goes.”
Springfield hasn’t lost since the last game against Wayne. Wayne’s players saw most of Springfield’s semifinal win over Moeller, and Caldwell says they think Springfield looks improved.
“They are knocking down shots and playing good,” Caldwell said. “We’ve got to come ready to play with our A-game.”
Carson says Springfield’s biggest improvement the second half of the season has been in the post. Darius Harper has become a consistent scoring threat in the paint and has limited his fouls on defense while maintaining an aggressive nature. Harper led Springfield with 19 points against La Salle in a district final and had two key blocks late against Moeller on Wednesday.
Jeremiah Ward and Leonard Taylor have both improved on defense according to Carson since the last game against Wayne. Ward, a 6-5 junior forward, had to sit out the first 13 games of the season.
“Darius’ improvement I think will help us tremendously against (Wayne),” Carson said. “I think Ward adds length and size we haven’t had, and Leonard Taylor will be as well. He’s come along strong late. That’s two more 6-5 guys that we’ll have against their size and their length.”
Harper averages about 10 points and eight rebounds per game for the Wildcats.
Danny Davis leads Springfield at shooting guard with an average of about 18 points per game. Dae’Shawn Jackson averages about 15 points a game, while Henry Alexander averages about nine. Jackson, Alexander and fellow senior guard Anthony Freeman have all been key contributors during the tournament run.
Alexander led Springfield with 21 and 24 points, respectively, in sectional wins over Trotwood and Lebanon. Freeman scored 12 points against Moeller on Wednesday, including three critical three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
“Tournament play is for guards and for senior leadership, and we’ve got that,” Carson said. “That’s a great combination along with our big fellow.”
When the teams first played in January, a game-ending brawl broke out in the middle of the fourth quarter. Administration from both schools was present at the February rematch, and principals from both schools read sportsmanship statements before the game. There were no incidents in the rematch.
Harper says both teams have moved on from January’s game.
“We learned our lesson,” Harper said. “I got suspended two games because of that, and it hurt not playing and not helping my team. We’re not going to do anything like that again.”
Wayne head coach Travis Trice said Wayne isn’t worried about having to beat Springfield for a third time.
“We haven’t really paid a whole of attention to what they’re doing because we focus on what we do,” Trice said. “We’re going to keep doing what we do. We defend, we rebound, we score on transition and we play smart on defense.”
Carson said he thinks the previous lopsided losses will help motivate Springfield heading into Saturday’s game.
“We’re very fortunate that we’re getting good matchups and we’re playing well right now,” Carson said. “The scary thing is we haven’t even put together a full great game together. I’m hoping we can continue to try and grind these wins out. But I sure hope we can put that full game together at the right time…
“We believe (we can win) if no one else believes. We believe, and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”