COLUMBUS, Ohio - Everyone will notice the points, but it was defense that powered Berlin Hiland to its second straight Division IV boys state championship on Saturday.
Seger Bonifant scored seven points as the Hawks got off to a 10-2 lead, finishing with 18 points in a 68-36 victory over Jackson Center.
"Let's face it, everything went the right way for us," coach Mark Schlabach said. "We made open shots. We had been playing tight, but when the ball went up today, we played loose and free."
It was a battle of the top two teams in the final Associated Press regular-season poll. The Hawks (27-1) were No. 2 then, but not now.
"They played like the defending state champions," Tigers coach Scott Elchert said. "We were giving up 40 points coming into the game. They had 68, including 36 at the half."
First-team AP All-Ohioan Dylan Kaufman had 17 points and Neil Gingerich 12 for Hiland, which captured its third state title (1992, 2011). It became just the second repeat small-school state champ since the tournament went to four divisions in 1988. Columbus Wehrle won three straight from 1988-90.
The Hawks' big three -- Bonifant, Kaufman and Gingerich -- stand 6-foot-7, 6-5 and 6-7. No wonder they had a 33-26 rebounding edge and blocked seven shots.
"We take pride in our defense," Bonifant said. "Most teams come to Columbus and lay an egg on offense. But we had our defense backing us up. Plus, we all hit some good, open shots."
Hiland hit 54 percent of its shots from the field, including 8 of 18 3-pointers. It also limited Jackson Center to just 24 percent shooting (11 of 45) from the field).
"This feels so good," Kaufman said. "These are the best group of guys to be with. Doing it with them makes it even better."
Andy Hoying, who shared the player of the year award in the division with Kaufman, had 15 for Jackson Center (27-1).
"They're tough players," Hoying said of the big three for the Hawks. "We just didn't get the job done."
And to think that the Hawks needed Bonifant -- a second-team all-stater -- to hit a 3 with 0.4 seconds left against Richmond Heights in the regional final just to make a return trip to Ohio State's Value City Arena.
The Hawks took over at the outset and never let up, shooting 57 percent from the field in the opening half while building an insurmountable 36-16 lead. They drilled 6 of 9 shots behind the arc while also playing cloying, clawing defense.
Kaufman drove the lane for a three-point play and Bonifant drove right to left laterally and hit a 10-foot pull-up in the lane for a quick 5-0 lead, and the Hawks were off and flying.
They stretched that early edge to 15-2 as the Tigers were limited to Alex Meyer's 15-foot jumper in the opening 7 1/2 minutes.
"It was a snowball effect," Elchert said. "We gave up some stuff in transition and had some trouble scoring and one thing led to another."
Bonifant, averaging 15.6 points a game, almost equaled that at the half with 15 points with Kaufman hitting half his average with nine points.
Jackson Center barely had survived the state semis, trailing by 15 points in the first half before taking a 51-50 win over Columbus Africentric, which missed on two 3-point attempts at the finish.
The Tigers were making their third trip to the states, winning their only title in 1985.
Schlabach was asked about the possibility of a three-peat.
"If the OHSAA grants (Bonifant, Kaufman and Gingerich) another year of eligibility, I'll do cartwheels down the hall," he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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