JACKSON, Ohio — For Jacob Dovenbarger, and the rest of the River Valley Raiders, this third time was absolutely the charm.
After twice losing in lopsided fashion in the regular season to the Alexander Spartans, the Raiders and Dovenbarger didn’t disappoint on Monday night in the Division III sectional semifinals.
The six-foot, six-inch senior center poured in over half of River Valley’s points, and the 10th-seeded Raiders never trailed in knocking off the Spartans 47-38 at Jackson High School.
In a defensive-oriented contest, Dovenbarger broke through for 18 of his game-high 25 points in the second half —including 15 in the decisive fourth quarter in which he hit a three-pointer, 6-of-8 free throws and a thunderous slam dunk.
“That’s a pretty good half for a sectional basketball game. He (Dovenbarger) is that good and can get 30 (points) any night,” said River Valley coach Bryan Drummond. “He made free throws down the stretch because we got the ball to him. The guys trust him, they want him to have the ball, they want him to be successful and he wants the team to be successful.”
Alexander, on the other hand, never found any offensive flow — shooting just 33-percent on 15-of-46 overall, and 26-percent (5-of-19) from three-point range.
The Spartans also never saw the free-throw line —going only 3-of-4 — while committing 16 turnovers.
“We are a defensive team first and we have to be. But tonight was a little special. We got after it, and we were tired when we got done. We knew what they (Spartans) were going to do. We’ve played them twice and watched them several times on film since the tournament draw was announced,” said Drummond.
As the Raiders kept going inside from tipoff to final buzzer, they made 10-of-16 free throws as a team —all in the second half including 7-of-10 by Dovenbarger alone.
While River Valley did have to work hard for Monday night’s win, it was worth getting a ‘W’ in the tournament.
“It’s been a long season for us, but the tournament is where we want to succeed. The tournament is what we’ve been talking about all year. One of our goals was to make sure we got a tournament win,” said Drummond. “Alexander is very tough and physical and their defense is tremendous. From half-court and in, it is hard to get an inch on them. They help tremendously in their man-to-man defense. And that’s why we didn’t get many points, but 47 proved to be enough. This was a true definition of a ‘team’ win. We’re better than our record, and we’re really good whenever our big guy (Dovenbarger) plays well and our guards handle the basketball and we make our free throws.”
The Raiders definitely did all of those things against Alexander — the seventh seed in the Jackson sectional.
With the win, River Valley raised its record to 9-14 —and more importantly —returns to Jackson on Saturday evening for the Division III sectional championship.
The Raiders will now play second-seeded and highly-touted Oak Hill — which is 21-1, champion of the Southern Ohio Conference Division II and coached by the legendary Norm Persin.
Tipoff time is set for Saturday at 6 p.m.
Alexander ended its season at 11-12, and only got as close as four one-point deficits in the opening period (3-2, 5-4, 7-6 and 10-9).
The Raiders relied on back-door moves, baseline and mid-range jump shots, and even a couple of runouts to craft their points against the Spartans.
And Dovenbarger was the biggest beneficiary, of course.
“All of that was a product of just watching film and knowing how they (Spartans) were going to play us,” said Drummond. “We’re trading little bumps 30-feet from the basket where we would normally go by someone for a back-door cut or a couple plays that we put in to keep them on their heels. And we wanted to get the ball inside. The first play of the game and the first play of the second half, we went inside. We wanted to pound the ball inside and let it be known where we were going with the basketball. And my guys did that. They wanted to get the ball to Dove (Dovenbarger).”
In the fourth quarter especially.
Dovenbarger scored all but three of the Raiders’ 16 points in the stanza, including the opening 11.
The Silver and Black staked three 10-point leads in a two-minute and nine-second span —first (37-27) reached when Dovenbarger bagged a three off an assist from Jarret McCarley, who ran a nice back-door down-low cut before passing the ball back out top.
His short pull-up jumper along the baseline made it 39-29 with 3:08 remaining, then his breakaway dunk off an outlet pass made it 41-31 with 2:45 to play.
After Patrick Brown’s basket and free throw with 56 seconds left made it 45-34, Dovenbarger’s biggest made free throws pushed the margin to River Valley’s largest —47-34 with 45 ticks to go.
The Raiders enjoyed the bonus free-throw situation throughout the entire fourth period, including the double bonus for the final six minutes and 18 seconds.
They did so by going inside to Dovenbarger, who also ripped down a game-high 10 rebounds and blocked four shots.
River Valley shot 17-of-38 for 45-percent, as Dovenbarger drained two of the club’s three three-pointers.
Dustin Barber bagged three baskets for six points, while Tre Craycraft —on a first-half two and a three — and Ian Polcyn —on two buckets and a split of foul shots —posted five points each.
McCarley managed a field goal and a split of free throws in the third frame.
River Valley, thanks to an 8-1 run over exactly five minutes in the first half, led by as much as 18-10 at the 4:25 mark of the second quarter.
Alexander’s only marker in that stretch was a Ryan Davidson free throw.
Leading 18-14 at halftime, the Raiders ran off an 8-3 spurt in the opening 2:35 of the third —making it 26-17.
River Valley led 31-24 following three periods, as Davidson drilled a three-pointer just 30 seconds into the fourth to trim the Spartan deficit to its smallest (31-27) for the rest of the way.
Davidson’s final of three treys with 1:55 left made it 41-34, of which the Spartans didn’t score again until the final 32 seconds.
Davidson and Chace Harris had five field goals apiece for Alexander, as Davidson led with 14 points while Harris hit 2-of-2 free throws towards 13.
Harris in the first quarter and Luke Kish in the second canto canned a three-ball apiece, as Kish collected three field goals for seven points.
Alexander is a traditionally strong boys basketball program, but now the Raiders face the Oaks —which have risen in the past decade under the guidance of Persin.
Persin has 706 all-time career coaching victories, which ranks third all-time in Ohio.
His Oaks finished fifth in the final Associated Press Division III statewide poll, which was released on Monday.
But Drummond and the underdog Raiders hope some history repeats itself on Saturday.
“Let me tell you a little story. Back in 1998, Norm Persin and Chesapeake came to River Valley 19-0. He left 19-1,” said the coach. “I’m sure he is no stranger to what we are doing and they will slow the tempo. We know how many wins he (Persin) has, but we also know what we’re going to get with them. We’ll come in the underdog, but we were the underdog tonight. People on the Internet thought we were going to lose by anywhere from 15 to 25 (points) tonight. But when a few shots go in, who knows. It’s tournament time.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106