CANTON – McDonald held a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils overcame 15 turnovers to that point and seemingly had Lutheran East right where they wanted them in Tuesday’s Division IV boys basketball regional semifinal at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.
The Falcons saw things much differently as they soared to a 63-48 victory and will face Cornerstone Christian in Friday’s regional final.
Lutheran East (20-5) forced four McDonald turnovers to start the fourth quarter McDonald had nine turnovers in that quarter to turn a 44-43 Blue Devil advantage to 51-44 Falcons lead with 4:45 left.
“The turnovers absolutely killed us,” said McDonald coach Jeff Rasile, whose team finished 23-4. “I told our younger guys you have to have five guys that can collectively run an offense against that type of pressure. Then you have to have a couple of guys that can break them down and beat them to the rim.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have that tonight. We struggled to beat them one-on-one to the rim. We struggled to run offensive sets. We had to set screens and push the ball and try to drive at them. It worked sometimes. It didn’t work other times.”
Donald McCain, Lutheran East’s 6-foot-2 senior forward, made a floater to cap the Falcons’ 8-0 run to start the fourth. McCain had a game-high 24 points to lead Lutheran East, which didn’t have any other players in double figures.
“What he killed us on was those little six-, eight-foot floaters against the press, drive to the middle of the paint and float it,” Rasile said. “The kid’s a great athlete. What are you going to do? He’s a great player.”
McCain cut through the McDonald interior a possession earlier, converting on an eye-catching up and under move. He had eight points in the fourth and 16 in the second half.
“He drove and got some easy hoops on us,” said McDonald’s Jake Reckard, who had a team-high 12 points.
McDonald, which was 1-of-10 from the floor and 0-of-6 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter, stayed with its pressure man-to-man defense, which a more athletic Lutheran East team took advantage of often. The Falcons were 8-of-11 from the floor in the final period – making most of their field goals on shots six feet and closer.
Lutheran East’s 5-9 sophomore guard Alexander Heath slashed through the middle of the McDonald interior as well to set up some the Falcons’ scores.
“I went back in my head to come out in a 2-3 zone in the fourth quarter,” Rasile said. “With that said, we were able to run up and down a little bit. They had 43 points at the end of three quarters. They were getting some easy hoops, but so were we. So I thought, stay with what we’re doing.
“Hindsight, I go into a 2-3 zone and make them beat us shooting jump shots. You know, this is what we do. So, it’s hard to make that adjustment.”
Despite the outcome, McDonald’s 23 wins was the second-most in team history.
“That wasn’t a goal of ours to start the season,” Reckard said. “Our goal was to win district, get here and see what could happen.
“Nothing to be ashamed of this season.”
The Blue Devils rallied in the third quarter after Lutheran East took a 39-32 advantage with 3:07 left. Dylan Portolese’s putback off Braedon Poole’s missed 3, one of Portolese’s nine rebounds, gave McDonald its first lead at 41-39 with 2:21 remaining. It was the Blue Devils’ first lead since Zack Fedyski made 1-of-2 from the line with 6:19 left in the first half for a 20-18 advantage.
Evan Magill had another of McDonald’s 25 rebounds on yet another offensive rebound with 4:20 left in the game. He was fouled on the play, but couldn’t convert on the 3-point play as the Blue Devils trailed 51-48. They got no closer. Magill and Matt Howard each had 10 points.
McDonald’s five seniors – Fedyski, David Rebraca, Lucas Garland, Reckard and Howard – led the Blue Devils team to one of the best in school history.
“I think the seniors had a great year,” Rasile said. “They had great careers. They did a great job. They continued the tradition at McDonald. That’s the winning tradition. We’re happy right now.”