Big win for Raiders

Defense, guards lead Harding over Garfield Heights, 83-66

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo New Warren G. Harding coach Gabe Bubon fires up his players during a timeout Thurday in an 83-66 win over Garfield Heights.

WARREN — Stop, pop and swish.

Dom McGhee felt the rhythm of the basketball reverberate off his hands and gently brush through the twine attached to the metal rims inside the Warren G. Harding gymnasium.

His teammates felt the same vibes flow through them as they passed the ball around the perimeter, picked their spots, shot jumpers or slashed through the Garfield Heights defense for an 83-66 win on Thursday.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior guard McGhee had one of the best nights of his career with 32 points.

“We knew 10 (D’Muntize Owens) was going to score, but 23 (McGhee) was unbelievable today,” Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson said. “He was pretty special.”

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Harding sophomores DeAveion Burgess (0) and Emari Burgess celebrate the win.

Yes, the same Garfield Heights team which beat Harding in a Division I district semifinal and have been the ultimate demise of the Raiders in past playoff runs.

Not this year. Not this time.

The Raiders (2-1) felt the innate energy emanating from the student section clustered on the southwest end. Loud and boisterous, something not heard in a while from the Harding faithful.

The chants of over-ra-ted started near the end of the first half as the Raiders pulled away 38-33 at halftime. There’s a handful of NCAA Division I talent on this youthful Garfield Heights team, but chants like that seemed too soon, especially after the first 16 minutes. Those Harding students and Raiders basketball ignored protocol and did things their own way, shocking some onlookers in Thursday’s crowd.

The cheers and unbridled enthusiasm heard behind the closed door of the Raiders locker room after Thursday’s game gave the impression of something … something first-year coach Gabe Bubon experienced when he played for the Running Raiders in the mid-1990s.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Dom McGhee (23) of Warren G. Harding shoots from behind a screen set by teammate Elizah Smith.

He never saw this when he coached at NAIA Point Park in downtown Pittsburgh.

“There were no crowds like that,” Bubon said. “This is awesome. I’m happy. I can’t say much more.”

He struggled to maintain his voice inflection after all the yelling and enthusiasm, but he mustered the words about his lead guards.

The combination of McGhee and Owens, who had 18 points, is the best backcourt duo in the area. Owens, a 5-10, 170-pound junior guard, was demonstrative on every made shot, a vocal player in his own right. Thursday was for celebration, even DeAveion Burgess, who had 14 points, started waving his arms in the fourth quarter, imploring the home crowd to get louder.

“I’m going to keep unleashing them,” Bubon said of McGhee and Owens.

The Raiders shot 30 of 63 from the floor and 12 of 30 from beyond the arc, a direct result of the up-tempo style Bubon wants to see most nights. Aston Bates added 11 points.

The offense pierced through the Bulldogs (2-2) multiple times, with a quick inbounds pass and driving uncontested through the lane.

The repetition and cohesiveness in practices quickly translated in the Harding offense.

“We trust one another to get to our spots and get open shots,” McGhee said.

The Raiders, who have no one bigger than 6-3 on their roster, furiously fought for the loose rebounds and somehow managed to get the best of a pair of 6-8 Garfield Heights post players in Brison Waller and Gilbert Davis. The two were held to a combined nine points even though Waller, a senior who has offers from Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Youngstown State, Cleveland State, Miami (Ohio) and Buffalo, grabbed 11 rebounds.

Rebounding edge. Great. Shooting near 50 percent. Even better. It was the defense which catapulted the Raiders to Thursday’s win.

Harding outscored the Bulldogs 34-15 in the second and third quarters to pull away.

Meechie Johnson, Sonny’s nephew, had 25 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and his son, also named Sonny, added 18. Those two family members could not lift Garfield Heights out of an 18-point deficit to start the final 8 minutes.

This Harding team forced 18 Bulldogs turnovers, which became transition on breakaways. That has to do with fierce defense.

“I told them, I will give every person on the court the green light if you give me everything you have on the defensive end,” said Bubon, whose team held Garfield Heights to 22 of 51 from the floor. “You don’t get the green light unless you play the D. Play the D, I’m going to let you fire. That’s what we do.”

Next Tuesday, the Raiders have another tall task in stopping a powerhouse Cleveland Heights at the Tigers’ venue. Jae’Lyn Withers, a 6-10 Louisville recruit, powers Cleveland Heights. The Harding mentor is well aware of his challenge.

“It doesn’t get any easier, but I love our defense,” he said.

Thursday, McGhee was cognizant of his role in Thursday’s win.

“I didn’t force anything,” he said. “My teammates told me to take over, do what I do.”

He definitely did against Garfield Heights.