BY J. PATRICK EAKEN | MIRROR SPORTS — For the second straight season, the Anthony Wayne boys basketball team reached the Division I district tournament at The University of Toledo’s Savage Arena.
It is at this district tournament that AW seems to run into the best from the Three Rivers Athletic Conference – and this season was no exception.
Last year, the Generals defeated Lima Senior, 56-51, and then fell to St. John’s Jesuit, 41-21, in the district final.
Unfortunately, their 2018-19 season ended on March 5 at the hands of TRAC co-champion Whit-mer, 54-31.
AW ended up at 16-7 overall, while the Panthers (21-4) moved on and lost in the district final to neighborhood rival and Toledo City League champion Start (22-3), 31-30, last Saturday.
Anthony Wayne shot just 24 percent (12-of-50) from the field while Whitmer took advantage of its strength inside on both offense and defense, blocking four shots.
“I thought our players showed tremendous effort all night long,” said AW coach Josh Arthur. “Whitmer is a very good basketball team and they are hard to beat due to their length and athleticism.
“They caused us to have a bad shooting night. We had opportunities to score, but couldn’t get them to fall.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers shot 43.5 percent from the field, scored 12 points off Anthony Wayne turnovers and had 10 second-chance points and 14 points in transition.
As a team, Whitmer had 15 assists, many of them coming from guards on the perimeter to the big men in the post. The Panthers scored 30 points in the paint, while AW had 18.
Edward Colbert III, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, led Whitmer with 20 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocked shots. Colbert made seven of his 12 attempts from the field.
Senior forward Cavon Butler hit 7-of-13 from the field and scored 15 points on power moves inside. He also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
“Butler for Whitmer was very good,” Arthur said. “He was a big body inside and probably had the best game of the year against us. I was very impressed with him.”
No AW players reached double figures, but junior guard Zac Szul and senior forward Max Bradfield scored nine points each.
Szul hit a 15-foot jumper on the Generals’ first possession of the game, tying the score at 2-2, but after the Panthers’ ensuing bucket, they led the rest of the way.
AW senior guard Max Denman dished to Szul for a bucket at the end of the first quarter, bringing the Generals to within six at 16-10.
They went cold after that, though, hitting on just 1-of-11 shots in the second quarter. Senior forward Ben Allen found the lane with a minute remaining in the half for AW’s only field goal as the Panthers went into halftime leading 26-16.
Whitmer opened the third on a 15-2 run, taking a 43-18 lead with 1:15 remaining, and the only thing left in the Generals was the fight.
“One thing our kids do is they never quit,” Arthur said. “They will not back down as long as there is time on the clock.”
Anthony Wayne picked up on its full-court defensive pressure in the fourth, forcing three turnovers, including a steal by Szul. The pressure was having some effect, but it was way too late.
The Generals, however, still made just 5-of-17 field goal attempts in the final stanza and made only two of 17 shots from behind the 3-point arc for the game.
AW managed to win the battle of the boards but only by a 36-35 count and had 13 turnovers compared to the Panthers’ nine.
Denman had six points, seven rebounds and four assists, including three assists in the first quarter. Bradfield also grabbed seven rebounds, tying Denman for the team lead.
Allen scored five points and had five rebounds and a steal, and junior forward Bryce Boyer contributed two points and four rebounds.
Starting junior guard Kyle Ray did not score, but he picked up his fourth personal foul with 3:50 remaining in the third and saw limited playing time after that.
For the Panthers, senior guard Trey Syroka recorded nine points and four assists, senior guard Areon Evans had four points and four assists and senior forward Leon Hughes had four points and three assists.
The loss was a tough way for AW seniors Denman, Bradfield, Allen, forwards Nick Smith and Chip Gottschalk and center Garrett Mintz to see their prep careers end.
“We had a good year and it is very sad to see the seniors move on to bigger things, but they have left a good legacy for the younger players to follow,” Arthur said.
Three Generals will play college football in the fall, including Denman, who has accepted a spot at Division I Bowling Green State University as a preferred walk-on and will redshirt his first year.
Allen will play football at D-I Bucknell University, while Bradfield is headed to D-II University of Findlay. Both Allen and Bradfield have signed on as scholarship players.
Szul and Ray will return as seniors next year with a full season as backcourt starters under their belts and five other juniors and two sophomores got varsity experience this season.
“We have a good group of younger players that are hungry and want to continue the success this program has had the last eight years,” Arthur said.