COLUMBUS - He has won 233 games in an 11-year span, so it's safe to say Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's Dru Joyce knows a thing or two about basketball.
That wasn't the case at Value City Arena here Saturday afternoon. Just ask him.
Win No. 234 would have meant the seventh state championship in an illustrious history for the Fighting Irish. Instead Columbus Bishop Watterson won its first state basketball championship in its 55-year history. The Eagles laid claim to the Division II crown with a 55-52 win.
"Columbus Watterson played a great game. They did all the stuff you need to do to win and I applaud them," Joyce said. "But honestly, I lost the game for us. I didn't have us turn up the heat on them soon enough. I should have turned it up earlier.
"My heart goes out to these guys," he said of senior Nick Wells and Jalen Hudson, who were at his side for the postgame press conference. "I hate to be the reason for these guys' anguish."
Watterson weathered an early storm, rallied to lead by as many as 10 and then stood strong when the Irish came back to take a short-lived fourth quarter lead.
In regaining control, the Eagles posted their 28th win against one loss. The lone setback was a 59-56 decision to Columbus Brookhaven. Watterson avenged that with a 56-52 overtime win for the district championship.
"We beat two pretty storied high schools in Ohio basketball (Kettering Alter and SVSM) and I'm proud of that," Watterson coach Vince Lombardo said. "We just try to focus on the things we can do and try to do them well."
Hudson hit a 3-pointer and Wells a putback to help SVSM to leads of 7-2 and 9-4 in the first four minutes of the game. But Cody Calhoun and Andy Greiser had 3-pointers of their own and Matt Hughes added a three-point play to lift the Eagles to a 13-9 lead at the first stop.
Hughes, Watterson's scoring co-leader with Calhoun with 14 points, put up 12 of those in the first half and seven in the second quarter. His two foul shots gave the Eagles a 10-point edge with 2:07 left in the half.
After Fransohn Bickley's 3-pointer for SVSM, Hughes hit a jumper in the lane for a 26-17 halftime advantage.
The Irish had managed just 7-for-22 from the field at the point, but Joyce said his team's defense was problematic.
"We knew they'd run a zone, but early on we got some things going against it," he said. "It wasn't so much that we didn't score; we didn't stop them. We weren't disciplined and the difference in the first half was free throws. We shot one and they shot nine."
The Irish picked up the tempo in the third period and narrowed the gap to 39-36 with Wells getting six points inside.
The comeback seemed complete when Hudson's inside jumper gave St. Vincent-St. Mary a 42-41 lead. But Calhoun drove the lane and came away with a three-point play to put Watterson back on top for good. The Eagles kept the edge with a layup by Bryan Jackson (12 points, six rebounds), a 3-pointer by Matt Lehmann (eight points, seven boards) and free throws down the stretch.
Hudson had 17 points and Wells finished with 14. But the Eagles limited freshman standout VJ King to five points with eight rebounds.
"We wanted to try to crowd him as much as we could," Lombardo said. "We really wanted to make him work and hopefully make his touches.
"You do your best and they still might explode on you," he said. "We were able to contain their scorers and we kept them off the glass."