CANTON – The two best basketball players on the court wore St. Vincent-St. Mary green and gold uniforms Thursday night at the Canton Memorial Civic Center.
Seniors Ramar Pryor and Sencire Harris each have Canton roots, and both felt right at home getting to the rim to lead STVM to an 82-43 win over Youngstown Chaney in a Division II regional semifinal before a crowd 1,028 that included Cleveland Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell.
Pryor scored 28 points and Harris contributed 16 points to lead the Irish (22-4) past the Cowboys (18-9) and into a regional final at 1:30 pm Saturday against Louisville, a 90-86 winner over Cleveland Glenville in overtime Thursday.
“They did what they have been doing all season long,” STVM coach Dru Joyce II said of Pryor and Harris. “This is their team. They are the leaders and they stepped up in a big way. They played a lot of zone and Ramar made them pay. He hit some big shots, and then beyond that, Sencire does what he does.
“I believe, and I guess I have a biased opinion, Sencire Harris is the best player in the state. Hands down. When you look at all of the stuff he can do on the floor offensively and defensively, there is nobody that can match his talent in the state of Ohio. ”
Pryor’s stat line also included five rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. Harris additionally had six steals, four assists, three rebounds and two blocks.
STVM led 13-12 at the end of the first quarter, and then took control of the game in the second quarter with a 13-0 run to turn a 16-14 lead into a 29-14 advantage. Harris made a jumper, a layup and a dunk during the surge and Pryor hit a 3-pointer and a layup.
The Irish led 34-23 at halftime and 53-30 through three quarters.
Harris, a 6-foot-5 University of Illinois recruit, and Pryor, a 6-3 Cleveland State University recruit, were key players throughout the game as STVM played without 6-4 junior Lance Hayes (sidelined with food poisoning).
“We will be happy to get him back on Saturday,” Joyce said of Hayes.
Pryor had seven points in the first quarter and 13 points in the second quarter. Harris scored eight points in each half.
“Those are the two guys with the most experience from last year, Ramar and Sencire,” Joyce said.
STVM junior Torell Hopson II scored eight points, and seniors Ethan Connery and Clinton Thomas III both had six points and five rebounds. Thomas also had four assists. Irish 6-9 junior Darius Stratford contributed four points, 11 rebounds and two blocks and junior Kevin Hamilton Jr. had two points and five assists.
“We all played as a team on defense and offense,” Harris said. “We really locked in defensively. Ramar and I got several steals that we needed to help us get the W.”
Chaney junior Josiah Gonzalez finished with 13 points and five rebounds. Cowboys senior Davinci McDowell totaled 12 points and seven rebounds, and junior Jason Hewlett had 10 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
The Cowboys were unable to mount a comeback as Thursday’s game mirrored a regular season matchup that STVM won 74-53 at Chaney on Dec. 14. Harris scored 33 points in that victory and Pryor scored 25 points.
The Irish led by three points at halftime against the Cowboys on Dec. 14, and then turned up the intensity defensively with a full-court press. The full-court pressure made an appearance in each half Thursday.
“It is a cliche, but defense wins championships,” Joyce said. “You have gotta be a great defensive team and we pride ourselves on that. Sencire and Ramar do great things on that end of the floor, too. Defense creates offense and it makes the game fun for those guys, too.”
Pryor said he was happy with the way he and his teammates played with “energy.”
“I have been in the gym all week getting reps,” Pryor said. “My shooting paid off, I guess, and I will take it into the next game, too.
“We had to calm down in the first half. It was a close game once again, so we just had to come and talk to each other and calm each other down and tell each other there was nothing to worry about. We just kept playing our game. ”
STVM ran past Buckeye 93-53 this past Saturday to win the Division II district title at Stow. The Irish have won 14 district championships in a row and 32 overall since 1976.
STVM will be in search of its 18th regional title Saturday, and is three wins away from its 10th state championship.
“Once LA [Hayes] comes back, we will take off from where we left off, “Pryor said.” LA is a missing piece, and we want to keep things going. We can’t wait for LA to get back for this next game. “
Louisville up next for STVM
Louisville (20-6) features 6-5 junior Will Aljancic, 6-4 sophomore Hayden Nigro and 6-5 senior Tyler Boldon.
Aljancic scored a career-high 37 points to lead Louisville past Glenville (18-6) in Thursday’s other Division II regional semifinal before a crowd of 2,271 at the Civic Center. Nigro scored 22 points and Boldon chipped in 12 points.
The Leopards have length on their roster with 6-5 Aljancic, 6-5 Boldon, 6-4 Nigro, 6-7 senior AJ Lingenhoel and 6-3 freshman Brayden Gross.
Lingenhoel scored six points against Glenville, Gross had four points and 5-11 freshman Beau Siegfried, the coach’s son, finished with seven points.
“We preach it all the time: This program is tough,” Louisville coach Tom Siegfried said. “We promote that it can be anyone at anytime. To have every single one of our guys in the rotation step up and have a big part [Thursday] was special. “
Siegfried said facing defending state champion STVM will be a big challenge.
“We’re going to obviously have to play a different way,” Siegfried said. “We’re not dumb. We’re not going to come out and full-court press them or anything. But we think it’s going to be possession by possession. We have to make good decisions.”
Josh Weir contributed to this article. Michael Beaven can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.