Richmond Heights vs. Russia boys basketball: Spartans grind out state semifinal victory, 65-52

Mar. 22—DAYTON — Benjamin York hit a 3 to start the fourth quarter, and Russia pulled even with Richmond Heights in a Division IV state semifinal March 22.

But that just lit the spark for the Spartans to start their run.

They pushed the lead to double figures for the first time since the beginning of the game. They took the victory, 65-52, and advanced to their third straight OHSAA championship game.

Richmond Heights matches up with Berlin Hiland in the D-IV state championship game after the Hawks beat Lima Central Catholic in double overtime. The game starts the state championship games March 24 at 10:45 a.m.

The Spartans had a 14-5 lead after a Dorian Jones 3-pointer with just under three minutes left in the first. But Russia answered with 3-pointers from Braylon Cordonnier and Brayden Monnin that made it a one-possession game.

Neither team was able to push the lead to more than one possession for long. Russia tied the game late in the second quarter on a Ben York split of free throws, but Richmond Heights retook the lead on a pair of Tyson Garner free throws with three seconds left in the half.

Despite the close contest, Coach Quentin Rogers didn't call a timeout until four seconds left in the third quarter.

"It was a physical game. Russia's been here before and are battle-tested," Rogers said. "We told them that we needed to adjust to the calls. There was a little too much reaching on our part. The way we practice, I put the trust in them and that helps them relax rather than panic and call timeouts. We practice for things to start going our way. A lot of the time it's also a scheme to save timeouts late, and I use them then to draw up ways to close out games. It's more about trusting in them."

Another hurdle was added for the Spartans as they had to juggle foul trouble. Jones, Hosea Steele and Jeremy Wilson all had three at the break, and Jones had his fourth early in the third quarter.

With multiple players juggling foul trouble, the scoring role was handled by De'Erick Barber. The point guard is used to having to run the offense rather than score.

But he was up for the challenge. Barber led all scorers with 17 points, six in the fourth including a fast-break layup in the 7-0 Spartan run after York's 3-pointer to open the fourth.

"We have a lot of talented players on the team," Barber said. "Coach preaches that and any night can be anyone's night. With Dorian in foul trouble, in and out of the lineup, it fell to me tonight."

While Russia never took the lead, the Raiders time and again either drew the game even or within one possession. They started the third with a Felix Francis layup to tie it at 31 and an alley-oop to Francis by Monnin made it a one-possession game entering the fourth.

Barber and Jones knew Richmond Heights needed to have better communication on the floor. With the Raiders' defense challenging the fast pace of the Spartans, they needed to be able to emphasize the ways to close another state semifinal victory.

"We had to talk a little more on defense," Barber said. "When they had the alley-oop, we had a huddle on the court. They were getting a lot of open shots. I told them that everyone needed to talk more, even the backside guys. If they had a guy open in the corner or on the wing, I felt like I was fast enough to take away both but we need to talk."

Jones added: "It was a little nervewracking, but I had trust in my team and brothers to get the job done. In my experience on the bench, you could see we weren't communicating as well. I made it a point to emphasize that and make it so we had to fly everywhere."

Jones came in after a Russia timeout early in the fourth but quickly picked up his fifth foul. With the Spartans' leading scorer out of the game, they needed to find another scorer.

That's when Demarris Winters found his spark from beyond the arc to finish with two 3-pointers late as he finished with 15 points, 10 in the fourth quarter.

"We're versatile and work on different things," Rogers said. "We're able to go with different defenses in order to try and keep guys out there. They've been together. We know that they have that. Russia looked like they hit the weight room and talent doesn't always win games. Sometimes it comes down to mental toughness, and we know we are one of the mentally toughest teams."

Jones also finished with 16 points for the Spartans.

Russia was led by Monnon with 15 points. York and Francis had 12 points each.


Richmond Heights 65, Russia 52