The Gilmour Lancers boys basketball team had made it their business this season to overcome deficits.
But the Lancers fell into a hole they could not climb out of when they lost 71-55 to Akron Buchtel in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division regional championship last Saturday at the Canton Memorial Civic Center.
“They hit some shots,” said Coach Dan DeCrane. “I had a sense that they might but I just thought when they missed, they would get the second, third and fourth rebound and when they rotated passes, we did not cut off drives and they got some lay-ups in the halfcourt and I just think we did not take them away enough.”
For the third straight year, Gilmour (17-11) qualified for another regional final.
In 2020-21, the Lancers defied the odds in a pandemic-plagued season to advance to their first regional championship since 1992 and marched to a regional banner last season, eventually finishing as the Division II state runners-up.
This season, Gilmour competed against one of the toughest schedules since DeCrane became head coach and returned only three varsity starters.
The fifth-year coach acknowledged that the Lancers needed to find multiple diamonds in the rough to key another deep postseason run.
Gilmour had a challenging start to the season, but the underclassmen settled in to fuel a 4-2 surge at the end of the regular season.
“It meant a lot just being with the guys and seeing the success they had,” said junior guard Tim Lee. “It was a good experience. I did not get to play much on the court last year but I was really a big factor in practice and gave the team good looks and was on the scout team. It was just a good experience and it was good to see what we could accomplish and what we could do this year so it was good to build off of that.”
Voted as the sixth seed in the Division II Northeast Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin district, the Lancers staged comebacks to earn a berth in the Elite Eight for the third straight season.
“We will take regional final games every day of the week,” said DeCrane. “I told the kids that is historic and unprecedented. I counted five schools in Northeast Ohio who have also been to three straight regional finals. Our senior class has done a tremendous job of that and we were happy to be here.”
The Lancers’ chances of another appearance in the Final Four went through Akron Buchtel, the team they defeated last year for the district title.
According to DeCrane, there was no added incentive just because it was a re-match of last season’s district championship game.
“We honestly tried to ignore the noise about it,” he said. “We know it is a public thing of last year’s re-match and I am sure they used that but it was two different seasons and two different teams. They had a few guys back and we had a few guys back but we were just worried about the 2022-23 regional final game.”
The Griffins got off to a fast start in the opening period, taking 10-2 lead sparked by five points from senior guard Marcel Boyce, Jr.
Gilmour trimmed the lead to 14-10 but the Griffins increased their lead to nine points on a 3-point shot by junior guard Diairre Pride, Jr. and a fast break lay-up by the 6-foot-1 Boyce, Jr.
Akron Buchtel dominated the glass, outrebounding the Lancers 7-3 in the opening period.
Rebounding had been Gilmour’s kryptonite this season and it became a glaring weakness against the Griffins.
“It was very tough,” said senior wing Brandon Rose. “Akron Buchtel is a very athletic and tough rebounding team that likes to go get the ball. We had trouble rebounding.”
Rose scored nine points but only two other Lancer players scored and the Lancers trailed 19-13 in the first period.
Gilmour stayed close, trimming the lead to five points in the middle of the second quarter but the Griffins, fueled by a 13-4 run, took a 14-point advantage into the half.
In addition to winning the rebounding battle 19-8, the Griffins also bullied their way into the paint for drives to the basket and constantly swarmed any Lancer who tried feeding the ball inside.
“They always found a way to get to the ball,” said the 6-foot-3 Rose. “When they got second shots, they tipped it up to themselves and grabbed it and we just could not get to the ball.”
For the first time, it was a lead that the Lancers could not overcome and the Griffins outscored them 22-16 in the third quarter, pushing their lead to 59-39.
“We were down and they pulled away,” said the 6-foot-3 Lee. “Perseverance has been a big thing all season and we knew that if we could persevere we could come out and get back into the game. Unfortunately that did not happen but we give Akron Buchtel a lot of credit. They were a good team.”
Boyce, Jr. and senior guard Khoi Thumran continued fueling the Griffins’ offense, combining for 12 points in the third period.
Gilmour graduates the last remaining members of their three-year run as regional qualifiers in Rose, guards Adisa Molton II and Dorjan Flowers.
“They were historic,” said DeCrane. “They raised the banner in our gym for our last state final fun and two Elite Eights. They are elite kids and have changed the face of Gilmour basketball.”
In the wake of the Gilmour trio departing, it returns at least five varsity regulars for next season and will promote some talent from their junior varsity team.
“Our junior varsity team won 15 games,” said DeCrane. “Halfway through the season we promoted a lot of players because we were down in depth so I like our future. We have a lot of work to do and maturing to do in the weight room but it looks bright.”
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