Africentric wins D3 title over Versailles

RUSTY MILLER AP Sports Writer Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Seldom is a girls team as quick as Columbus Africentric also so careful with the basketball.

The Nubians paired a lethal trapping defense with the ability to hold onto the ball for good shots to beat Versailles, 49-37, on Saturday night in the Division III state championship game.

"We practice a lot of just holding onto the basketball for two minutes," said Africentric coach Will McKinney. "A lot of teams don't realize what a weapon that can be when you have the ability to keep the ball away from the other team for two minutes. If you can do that in a game, whatever kind of lead you have you can kind of expand on it."

That's exactly what the Nubians did.

Sierra Harley had 14 points off the bench and Alexa Hart set the tone with six blocked shots in the first seven minutes as the Nubians (27-2), who lost in the title game last year after winning it in 2012, captured their fourth title. They became just the eighth school to have won at least four state championships.

Staked to an early lead, they never let go.

The imposing presence of the 6-foot-2 Hart, a first-team Associated Press All-Ohioan, helped Africentric grab an early double-digit lead. After Hart left with foul trouble, the Nubians were content to patiently work for baskets while continuing with their high-pressure defense.

"It's always good to have the lead so then we can pull (the other team) out and make them defend us," said guard Alexis Park, who had 12 points. "Then we just work the ball (because) we want layups."

Ahead by nine at the half, the Nubians pulled away by badgering the ball-handler at one end and then playing unselfish, spread-the-court at the other.

"We dug ourselves a pretty big hole and it's hard to come back on a team that can handle the pressure like they can. They really took it to us (with) their defense," said Versailles coach Jacki Stonebraker. "They were quicker than we were. We couldn't adjust to that very well."

She added, "They are very patient, especially when they lost both of their (big girls to foul trouble) in the first half."

The teams traded points in the third quarter until Africentric held Versailles scoreless for almost 6 minutes in a mini, 6-0 run. The Nubians were content to patiently work the ball around, passing and cutting while awaiting someone to slash to the basket or find an open seam.

Late in the game, up by 10, the Nubians' quick guards just played keep-away as they were chased by the trapping Tigers.

"The nice thing is that the state of Ohio doesn't have a shot clock," McKinney said. "If you have a decent team with two or three ball handlers, that's a great weapon to have."

Second-team All-Ohioan Christa Puthoff and Emily Harman both had nine points for ninth-ranked Versailles.

Versailles was seeking its second state championship, after winning the biggest trophy in 2008. This was the Tigers' sixth trip to the state final four.

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