Hiland Girls Basketball

Nubians escape with a state semi win over Lady Hawks in battle of Goliath vs. Goliath

Lady Hawks battle Nubians to the bitter end in state final loss

Some might consider the Africentric Nubians versus the Hiland Lady Hawks Div. III state semifinal game a David versus Goliath contest.

Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach would prefer to call it a Goliath versus Goliath confrontation.

While Africentric may be undefeated and perfect on the year at 27-0, Schlabach said they were not going to be intimidated by the Nubians and their seven collegiate Div. I-caliber players.

“We’re never intimidated by Africentric,” Schlabach said. “I told our kids on Monday that we aren’t interested in the underdog role. We have played them how many times now? And we aren’t going to be intimidated. They play the game a little differently than we do, but we walked on to the floor today fully expecting to win.”

In a Thursday, March 14 showdown at the Schottenstein Center at the Ohio State University in Columbus, these two juggernaut programs collided head-on in what turned out to be a 61-48 Nubians’ win that was a lot tighter than a 13-point game.

“With us and Berlin Hiland, it is always going to be a battle,” Africentric head coach William McKinney said. “They are not a team that is going to lay down and let you walk all over them. If you beat Berlin Hiland, you actually have to go out and win the game. They are very well coached; they are extremely good shooters.”

The Lady Hawks were punched in the mouth early by the nation’s number-four team. Alexia Smith canned a 3-pointer, her 1000th point of her career, to open the scoring. Maliyah Johnson scored inside, and after coming up short in its first three possessions, Hiland finally got going on Morgan Yoder’s drive. Trailing 9-3, Hiland got a boost from an unlikely source in freshman Aila Miller, who came off the bench to knock down four quick points to get the Lady Hawks within 9-5.

Led by Johnson and Smith, the Nubians forged a 14-7 lead that grew to 18-7 on scores from Nyam Thornton and Tearra Cook.

It was at that point that Hiland was going to find out what it was made of, and Schlabach had to like what he saw as his team responded by showing poise and mental toughness.

Kylie Horn’s two free throws and Yoder’s 3-pointer drew Hiland to within 19-14 at the end of the first quarter, and it felt like Hiland had survived a major test.

The Nubians, whose average margin of victory in the tournament coming in was 47 points, had slugged the Lady Hawks, who took their punch and now seemed poise to challenge.

Yoder made that happen by coming out and knocking down a 3-pointer to start the second period to get Hiland to within two. All-American and Ohio’s Miss Basketball in Div. III Jordan Horston drilled a triple to extend the Nubians lead, and her two free throws and a Smith score on a fast break pushed the lead back to 10.

Again it felt like Africentric was trying to bully Hiland, but the Lady Hawks again fought back, and again it started with another Yoder trey. Krista Troyer then scored in the paint to get the Lady Hawks to within five, and Yoder and Shelby Miller sandwiched scores around a Horston jumper to draw to within three. Smith scored again off a fast-break, and the Nubians took a 31-26 lead into the locker room.

If Hiland was supposed to be intimidated, they weren’t following the script, and what was more was that the Lady Hawks were down just five and their top two scorers, Zoe Miller and Brynn Mullet, had not recorded a single point.

The second half saw the two powerhouses stalk each other early until Horston scored on a jumper in the lane.

Mullet then showed her shooter’s mentality by ripping back-to-back 3-pointers, and suddenly it was a one-point Nubians’ lead at 33-32.

Hiland then buckled down on defense and had several shots at taking the lead but failed to connect on three 3-pointers and two free throws, and with 4:17 in the period Thornton finally broke the ice with a score to make it 35-32. Unfazed, Mullet came down and crushed her third 3-pointer of the period to knot things up at 35-all with 3:59 in the third quarter.

That was as close to a lead as Hiland would get.

“I wish we could have scored on them to take the lead in the third because I think that creates an entirely different mind-set,” Schlabach said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Smith quickly scored on a fast-break for a two-point Nubians’ lead. Then both teams showed what makes them so good by stiffening on defense. Again Hiland had numerous chances to tie or take the lead but came up empty, and Thornton’s jumper in the lane ended a two-minute span where nobody scored.

A Johnson free throw would stake Africentric to a 40-35 lead as the teams headed for home, Hiland still well within striking range and Africentric in a very unusual place, a tight game in the final period.

What the Nubians did in the final quarter was become very patient on offense, remain aggressive on defense and seize the day for victory.

“Every great team makes runs, so we knew that when they did, we had to punch back,” Horston said. “We tightened it up on defense and slowed it down on offense, and we communicated a lot better in the second half and found better shots, the right shots. We started talking more, and our defense got our offense going.”

In the final period the Nubians went 6-of-8 from the floor and made nine free throws to salt away the game. In less than three minutes Smith and Horston led a charge that saw Africentric build a 50-38 lead. Yoder scored off a pair of drives, and Kendra Shetler scored in the paint, but each time Africentric had the answer. When Zoe Miller finally cracked the scoring column with a pair of free throws with 1:55 left, the mountain was too high for Hiland to climb, and the Nubians were on their way to the finals.

“I thought the game was fantastic,” McKinney said. “We are so familiar with Berlin Hiland. We tried to pressure them early, but they did a good job of handling that. Basically in the third quarter we eased the full-court pressure and played a lot more half-court man. This win was a testament to our ladies locking in.”

“We had our chances, but we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Schlabach said. “It hurts. We played them tough but still lost, so it hurts. Our kids are going to leave here very hungry, I’m sure.”

Schlabach went on to say that with this young team, having lost four starters off of last year’s regional final team that fell to the Nubians in overtime, people might not have known what to expect from this group. Losing projected All-Ohioan center Tiffany Weaver for the season further clouded that picture, but his kids responded.

“We beefed up the schedule and tried to put as many teams on our schedule that looked like Africentric as possible,” Schlabach said, anticipating this state showdown. “We will challenge them even harder next year. I told the kids we are going to walk out of here with our heads held high and feel good about the year that they had. It is always a good year when you get to Columbus, but it hurts. We are a program that when you invest so much, if you don’t win it at the end, it’s going to hurt, and we are OK with that.”

Having to battle a lanky Nubians team that has four kids 6 foot or taller and averages 25 offensive rebounds a game, the Lady Hawks showed they weren’t going to back down on the glass either. While Africentric led in rebounds 37-32, it was close throughout as Hiland showed a fierce will to battle inside.

“I coach tough kids,” Schlabach said. “We’ve won every single rebounding battle we have had except for game one this year. This has been the best rebounding team I’ve ever had. That just shows the toughness and mentality of this group. I’m sure Africentric is plus-30 in rebounding against everyone they play, so for them to be plus-five against us, I can live with that.”

Smith and Horston led the Nubians with 19 and 15 points, respectively, while Thornton added 11. Horston tacked on 10 boards and five assists. The Lady Hawks got an unbelievable game from Yoder, who poured in 21 points and had zero turnovers, a major achievement for a point guard facing that kind of pressure. Mullet added nine points, Aila Miller scored five, Shelby Miller scored four and Shetler added three. Zoe Miller hauled down seven rebounds to lead Hiland while Shetler added five and Yoder recorded four.

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