Lendell Green and Ben James sparked a 20-4 third-quarter run that allowed Independence to take control on its way to a 74-55 win over Buckeye Valley in the first round of the Division II Central District boys basketball tournament Monday night (Feb. 27) in Columbus.
The 15th-seeded 76ers exploded for 48 second-half points to run away after holding a two-point halftime lead.
“I thought we played a pretty solid first half – down two going into halftime,” Barons coach Andy Gast said. “We always talk about starting the first few minutes (of the third quarter) strong, and we didn’t do that.”
Dibaji Walker scored a game-high 23 points and added five rebounds, Jaleyn Pellom finished with 18 and James added 10 points and seven rebounds to lead the Sixers (10-12).
Green started the run with a three-pointer from the right wing and added a fast-break layup off a BV turnover to push the lead to seven.
“We got a couple of stops early in the third quarter, but then we turned the ball over – we probably had three or four turnovers in a row that really killed us and let them extend the lead,” Gast said.
Walker found James underneath, who converted the three-point play with a free throw – the first of two during the decisive run. Independence outscored BV 24-10 in the third to take a 50-34 lead.
“They had a huge third quarter on us and we can’t score enough to do that,” Gast said. “So, I thought that was a really big turning point in the game.”
BV came out strong with four threes in the first quarter by Clark Newland, Dylan Herbert, Aaron Watson and Braxton Wells.
However, Walker scored Independence’s first seven points and the Sixers led 18-17 at the end of one.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Gast said. “I don’t know where he’s going to go to school, but he’s going to play somewhere.”
Nathan Edington’s put-back gave BV a 19-18 edge early in the second, but Green scored a second-chance basket of his own off a Keyshawn McGee offensive rebound to give the Sixers the lead for good.
“I thought Nathan Edington probably had his best game of the year,” Gast said. “He competed hard with (Walker and James). I was really proud of how he played.”
The Green basket started an 8-2 run, but Herbert buried a three-pointer from the left wing at the buzzer to pull the 18th-seeded Barons to 26-24 at the break.
Edington led the Barons (7-16) with 16 points and 14 rebounds and Watson added 11 points. Herbert led with four assists and Elijah Jackson had three steals.
“We started two freshmen and they played well at times — some mistakes at times — but, you’re going to have that,” Gast said. “I thought Aaron Watson came off the bench and gave us some good, solid minutes in that kind of role. He’s one of the most skilled kids in our program.”
BV was without its top scorer Ethan Crawford, who missed the final four games of the season with a dislocated ankle. He’s expected to be ready to play again this summer.
“It really hurt us losing Ethan Crawford – we lost a lot of our scoring,” Gast said. “But, I thought, as a team we got better. That doesn’t always reflect in wins and losses. I thought we developed some players, which is a good thing. So, I don’t think this year was a wash by any means.”
Independence advances to the second round and will play at third-seeded Eastmoor Academy Saturday at 7 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.