Ken Grisdale can rest easy now. Days after the Poland Seminary head coach made news with comments on the Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary program, Columbus Bishop Watterson took down the Irish on Thursday, 56-51. Led by senior combo-guard Matt Lehmann's 19 points, Watterson overcame a 15-10 first quarter deficit to advance to the Division II state championship for the second year in a row.
Paced by senior forward Joe DiOrio's 10 first half points, Watterson used a 20-6 second quarter charge to head into halftime with a six-point lead at the break.
Opening up the lead to 40-26 off a deep three from senior point guard Cody Calhoun, Watterson would give up an 8-0 run to end the third quarter, heading into the final frame with a 40-34 advantage. As a Jarel Woolridge three and ensuing lay-in from Josh Williams would cut the Watterson lead to 40-39 a minute into the fourth quarter, Watterson would respond.
Lehmann's ensuing two free-throws would increase the Eagle lead to 42-39, giving Watterson a bit of breathing room with 6:29 remaining. With STVM responding on the next drive, junior guard Johnnie Robinson went to the line with a chance to give the Irish its first lead since the first half. As Robinson knocked down one of two free-throws with 5:49 remaining, the Irish would not get any closer in Thursday's game.
As Williams knocked down two free-throws to tie things at 44 with 5:11 to go, Lehmann would respond with a crafty left-handed finish in traffic, again giving Watterson a two-point lead, 46-44. Senior guard Andy Grieser would knock down two free-throws on the following possession for the Eagles, pushing Watterson's lead to 48-44 with 3:51 to go.
Senior combo-guard Jalen Hudson would knock down a three in the corner to cut Watterson's lead to 50-47 with 2:47 to go, but the Irish would only record one more field goal for the remainder of Thursday's game. Watterson ended the final two and a half minutes on a 6-4 run, keeping St. Vincent-St. Mary at a distance, while remaining rock solid at the free-throw line.
Shooting 52 percent from the field, Watterson was even better from the three-point line and the charity stripe, knocking down five of seven attempts from behind-the-arc, while shooting 85 percent from the free-throw line. For comparison, St. Vincent-St. Mary shot just 36 percent from the field, converting 18 of 50 attempts from the field. The Irish were even worse from the three-point line, hitting just five of 20 attempts from deep.
As DiOrio's scoring was the story of the first half, the senior post made major contributions in other facets of the game in the final two quarters. Limiting star sophomore VJ King to eight points, DiOrio's presence on defense and on the glass made a major difference in the Eagles' semifinal win.
Failing to record a single bench point, Watterson received double-digit outputs from Lehmann (19 points), Matt Hughes (11 points), and DiOrio (10 points). Hughes and Lehmann were effective on the defensive end, combining for five steals. DiOrio's seven rebounds were a game-high, despite Watterson being outrebounded 27-24.
For St. Vincent-St. Mary, Hudson led the way with 19 points. Days after Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson was fired, Hudson, a Hokie commit, had a high-major programs in attendance on Thursday, as Penn State took a look at the 6'5 guard. Outside of Hudson, Williams, an Akron commit, added 12 points, three rebounds and three assists. King added just eight points, in addition to five rebounds and three steals. After an ineffective performance in last year's state championship game, King wasn't much of a factor in the second half, as Watterson's zone defense kept the highly-touted sophomore from getting quality looks from the field.
With the win, Watterson advances to play Norwalk in the Division II state championship on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Norwalk is coming off a 72-64 win over Dayton Thurgood Marshall. Norwalk seniors Jeff Thomas and Ben Haraway combined for 40 points in the win.