ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Big Red's thrilling run through the Division II postseason came to a heart-breaking end Thursday on Ohio University's Eastern Campus.
Cory Contini swished a short jumper as time was expiring to give Dover a 54-52 come-from-behind overtime victory in the Eastern District championship game, played before a large and vocal crowd inside OUE's Health and Physical Education Building.
The Tornadoes will take a 20-4 mark to Athens next week for their regional semifinal against John Glenn. Big Red finishes its outstanding season at 21-4.
STUNNER — Steubenville senior Chris Smith, front, and freshman Charles Reeves walk off the court as the Dover basketball team celebrates its come-from-behind 54-52 victory over Big Red in a Division II sectional co-final at Ohio University Eastern on Thursday.
-- Mike Mathison
OFF-BALANCE -- Steubenville senior Brandon Herring-Hill attempts a fadeaway shot in the second half.
-- Mike Mathison
"I hate for it to end this way," a dejected Mike Haney said after his team accepted the district runner-up trophy. "We had it in our grasp and let it slip through. That makes it really tough."
For three quarters, Big Red appeared to be on its way to winning the school's 13th district title. Powered by solid defense and a respectable shooting performance, Haney's crew led 18-10 after one and 31-18 at the break.
During the opening half, Big Red forced nine Dover turnovers (six came via steals) and limited the top-seeded Tornadoes to just six field goals on 23 tries. Meanwhile, the Red canned 12 of 27 attempts, but had a hard time converting shots inside the paint.
A Brandon Herring-Hill triple along with an Adam Sterling deuce off a steal gave Big Red its eight-point first quarter advantage. Dover used a 5-0 run to make it 18-15 before Big Red scored six straight (sophomore Dionee Wallace-Jones drove hard to the hole for a bucket then drained a trifecta). Lucas Herrington connected from behind the arc and Chris Smith knocked down a jumper to finish the first half scoring.
"I thought we played excellent defense in the first half," Haney stated. "They didn't have good looks, we caused them to hurry shots and we got the rebounds."
Sterling, who got into early foul trouble, canned back-to-back threes early in the third and Big Red had its largest lead of the evening at 37-20. Freshman Charles Reeves scored from the paint and Haney's cagers were up 43-29 with eight minutes to play.
Unfortunately for Big Red, the walls came tumbling down during the final stanza.
A Reeves putback made it 45-31 before the Tornadoes reeled off six consecutive points. Herring-Hill stopped the spurt with a make from the line. Dover's Blake Blair and Contini followed with buckets and the score stood at 46-41 with 2:40 left to play. Contini's bucket came following a Big Red turnover, one of eight Steubenville committed during the second half (it had four in the opening two periods).
Herring-Hill connected again from the stripe then Austin Laughlin and Evan Snyder scored and it was 47-45 with 1:30 showing on the clock. Following a Big Red misfire on a layup, Dover ran some clock, calling a timeout with 16 seconds left.
The Tornadoes forced the overtime thanks to a tip-in by Laughlin. It was their second offensive rebound of the possession.
"It seemed like we were still pushing the ball early in the second half but we weren't getting shots," Haney remarked. "Then they started hitting their shots and their shooters were able to get their feet under them.
"A couple of times in the second half, they missed shots but were able to get backside rebounds and that really hurt us (Dover had five offensive boards during the fourth quarter and the extra session)."
Reeves got the first bucket in overtime off an offensive rebound. Dover tied it on two Laughlin free throws. On Big Red's next possession, the officiating crew opted to call a charging foul on Herring-Hill instead of a block on the Dover defender. The Tornadoes used that turnover to take the lead for the first time since the opening period thanks to a Snyder triple. Herrington responded with a three-ball of his own, knotting the score at 52 with 1:27 left.
That set the stage for Contini's game-winner. A desperation shot by Big Red missed its mark.
The Tornadoes committed two turnovers in the final 20 minutes of action.
In the second half, Big Red made just eight of 28 shots while Dover nailed 15 of 28. Haney's club managed just four points during the final eight minutes.
"We pushed the ball a little for a couple of minutes in the second half, then tried to pull it back out because we weren't getting good looks," said Haney. "We wanted to make them foul. Then we had a couple of big turnovers that hurt and we lost Sterling to fouls."
Reeves paced Big Red, the district's third-seeded team, in scoring with 12. He also hauled down eight rebounds. Herring-Hill and Sterling evenly divided 20 in their final game for the Red. Herrington contributed eight.
Herring-Hill also dished out five assists while Sterling recorded three steals.
Dover's Snyder took game-scoring honors with 17. Laughlin added 13.
The loss also ended the careers of Smith and Khaliq Bougard.
"Hats off to the seniors," Haney said. "The coaching staff and our younger players really appreciate the effort they gave day in and out. That Big Red on their uniforms really meant a lot to them. I think they made all the guys who played for Big Red before them proud."
Dover 54, Big Red 52
Big Red 18 13 12 4 5 - 52
Dover 10 8 11 18 7 - 54
BIG RED (21-4): Wallace-Jones 3 0-0 7; Herring-Hill 3 3-6 10; Herrington 3 0-0 8; Reeves 5 2-3 12; Bougard 0 0-0 0; Sterling 4 0-0 10; Smith 2 1-3 5. TOTALS: 20 6-12 52. 3-pointers: Herrington 2, Sterling 2, Herring-Hill, Wallace-Jones; Rebounds: 29 (Reeves 8, Sterling 7, Smith 6); Turnovers 12; Assists 13 (Herring-Hill 5, Herrington 4); Steals 7 (Sterling 3).
DOVER (20-4): Keith 1 1-2 4; Snyder 7 1-2 17; Mills 1 0-0 2; Contini 3 0-0 8; Laughlin 4 5-7 13; Blair 4 0-0 9; Fillippi 0 0-0 0; Cercone 0 1-2 1. TOTALS: 21 8-13 54. 3-pointers: Snyder 2, Blair, Keith; Rebounds: 29 (Laughlin); Turnovers 11.