DAYTON — Some teams running man-to-man defenses create dozens of turnovers every game and cause the equivalent effect of a fighter repetitively punching an opponent as turnovers lead to transition baskets.
Jackson Center’s man-to-man defense creates turnovers — but usually not in big bunches. The blows don’t come repetitively.
Instead, what the squad has done well with its man-to-man defense and methodical pacing under longtime coach Scott Elchert is more a akin to a fighter putting an opponent in a chokehold. The Tigers take control and suffocate an opponents’ offense.
The method worked again in a Division IV regional semifinal on Tuesday at University of Dayton Arena. Jackson Center led for most of the game but after Fairfield Cincinnati Christian rallied in the second half, the Tigers re-took control and scored the last 11 points to pull away to a 40-30 victory.
Jackson Center’s suffocating defense made the difference. The Cougars sped things up early in the third quarter and used a few turnovers to help fuel a 9-2 run that tied the score 21-21.
Logan Woods hit a jumper to open the fourth quarter that gave Cincinnati Christian a 29-28 lead. The squad didn’t score a field goal in the last six minutes and didn’t score another point after Woods made a free throw with about five minutes left.
“We talked about this at halftime, the way they were going to come at us and try to pick the tempo up and put us in positions to make bad decisions,” Elchert said. “We did enough there to allow them to get the momentum and get back in things.
“But the bottom line is we were able to regain our composure and finish out strong. We had a very solid fourth quarter. …It felt like our defense really came through in the fourth quarter.”
A big reason Jackson Center (22-5) held the Cougars 35 points under their season average was rebounding. The Tigers had a 26-17 rebounding edge and limited Cincinnati Christian to five offensive rebounds.
“I felt like we rebounded the ball well all night, which was a key for us coming in,” Elchert said. “… That was good stuff. I felt like we challenged their shots and the fact that we held them to 30 points I think speaks something about our defense and the fact that sometimes we’re willing to work for not a good shot but a great shot.”
The Tigers advance to a regional final for a second consecutive year. They’ll face Columbus Wellington School, which beat Fort Loramie 38-35 in Tuesday’s first semifinal, at 7 p.m. on Friday at UD Arena.
“They’re everything that we had heard,” Elchert said of Wellington. “Same type of team (as Cincinnati Christian). Very athletic and present a lot of problems for you inside because they’re relentless on the offensive glass. They’re athletic and they’re long, so when they’re at the defensive end, you have to be sharp with your cuts and movements and those types of things.”
Jackson Center advanced to a regional final last year and lost 46-43 to St. Henry, but senior guard Christopher Elchert said he thinks the squad can win a regional title and earn a state berth this year.
“It’d be great,” Elchert, the son of Scott Elchert, said. “It’s something we’ve always dreamed of. We have the best coaching staff in the state, hands down. There’s no doubt about it. They’re the best coaching staff, so we’ll come in Friday in a great position to win.”
Elchert scored all six of his points in the first five minutes of the first quarter to help the squad take an 11-3 lead.
“I just wanted to help my teammates,” Elchert said. “I feel like as a leader of this team, I need to come out and make plays early to help everybody else settle in.
“…It’s big (to take an early lead). You get momentum and get the crowd to come out on your side. You just settle in, and you’re just playing.”
Aidan Reichert made a basket at the buzzer to push the Tigers’ lead to 13-5 heading into the second. The squad led 19-12 at halftime before the Cougars started the third with their big run.
“After the first four minutes (of the second half), we figured out the pressure and stopped turning the ball over, and we were fine,” Christopher Elchert said.
Garrett Heitkamp scored the go-ahead basket with 4:45 left in the fourth to give Jackson Center a 31-30 lead. Reichert followed with a basket and hit 3-of-4 free throws over a minute to push the team’s lead to 36-30 with 2:03 left.
It was a strong finish at the free-throw line for Reichert, who missed his first two attempts. The Tigers shot 8 for 15 from the line overall.
“We’ve still got to improve that,” Scott Elchert said. “We need to be better than that.”
Reichert, who limped off the court after the game after blocking a last-second shot at falling to the floor, led the team with 18 points and had eight rebounds. Garrett Prenger scored 11 points and Camdyn Reese had 10 rebounds.
Cincinnati Christian finishes 20-7. Woods led the team with 11 points.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.