Bouncing back from a disappointing season, Upper Arlington completed a worst-to-first bounce back by downing Hilliard Davidson for an outright division title.
By Aaron Blankenship
Not only did the contest serve as an Ohio Capital Conference Central Division championship game, with both squads tied atop the standings heading into their league finale, but the Upper Arlington senior was anxious to play against the Wildcats after he had to sit out the Golden Bears’ seven-point win at Davidson earlier in the season while recovering from a concussion.
Fortunately for the Golden Bears, Heath more than made up for lost time by scoring a career-high 25 points to lead UA to a 73-62 victory and its first outright OCC title since 2018. UA won a share of an OCC championship in 2020 and has won nine OCC titles in the past 13 seasons, and 22 league championships overall.
“This feels great to help my team win the OCC, but this would have felt good even if the OCC wasn’t on the line because I missed my chance to play at Davidson (on Jan. 14),” Heath said. “I felt ready to play in that game, and I warmed up on their court and argued with my coach and my trainer to put me in, but I still wasn’t cleared to return. Sitting that one out hurt, because I’ve been playing against some of their guys since we were little kids. So I had some unfinished business to attend to tonight.”
Heath scorched Davidson by making all six of his shots from the floor, including four 3-pointers, and by going 9-for-11 from the foul line, including 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter.
The small forward opened the game by making a 3-pointer from about four feet behind the arc and he never cooled off the rest of the way.
“Honestly, I always feel like my shot is going to be on, so I just let it fly when I’m open,” Heath said. “When I made that first (3-pointer) from about four feet out, my confidence grew from there.”
Senior guard Quinn Corna also had a big game, scoring 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field and finishing 7-for-9 at the charity stripe.
“I just wanted this game, and my teammates got me the ball when I was open,” Corna said. “I worked hard to get quicker and stronger during the offseason, and when I was called upon, I did my job.”
Drew Graves scored 11 points and Geoffrey Schoeny chipped in seven points for UA, which improved to 17-4 overall and finished 7-3 in the OCC-Central ahead of league runner-ups Davidson (6-4) and Olentangy Liberty (6-4).
“Winning the OCC means the world to us,” Corna said. “We finished last in our division last season, and we had a chip on our shoulder all offseason because of that. We’ve strived to win the OCC ever since then.
“This win was for our whole community, our school, our fans and most of all – ourselves.”
Peyton Frey scored 19 points, Ryan Paris had 16 points and Daniel Neidert had 10 points to lead Davidson, which dropped to 14-7 overall.
Frey scored 11 points and made all four of his field goal attempts in the first quarter, including a 3-pointer that put Davidson ahead, 11-10with four minutes remaining, which ended up being the last time the Wildcats held the lead.
Frey made seven of his nine field goal attempts and went 4-for-5 from the foul line, before fouling out of the game with UA ahead, 63-52, with 1:58 remaining.
Jayden Nervis, another Davidson starter, fouled out with 2:21 left in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats were effective on the offensive glass, creating many second- and third-shot opportunities, but they failed to convert enough of those chances.
Davidson turned the ball over eight times en route to falling behind, 32-22, at halftime. The Wildcats missed 12 of their 19 field goal attempts, while being outscored, 25-17, in the fourth quarter.
“Defensively, we got hurt on the boards,” UA coach Tim Casey said. “If we could have held them to one shot per possession in the first half, we could have been up by 20.”
The Golden Bears really shined on offense, where they patiently cycled the ball between players, probed for an opening and then exploited it. UA made 23 of 34 field goal attempts overall and went 21-for-26 from the foul line.
“We’ve scored and shot the ball well all season long, and we were pretty efficient, offensively, tonight.” Casey said. “Nick is one of the best shooters I’ve seen. When he’s open and his feet are set, there’s a good chance it’s going in.
“This OCC championship is pretty special coming off the COVID year that we didn’t handle very well. This is an unbelievable senior group, and they worked tirelessly for this, because they were determined to not let it happen again. I couldn’t be more proud of this group of seniors and this team.”